Black History Month: Past, Present, Future

February 1, 2021
By Andrea Griffith Cash

​In February our nation celebrates Black History Month, also called African American History Month. This annual observance commemorates African Americans’ achievements and honors their central role in shaping U.S. history.


How It Began


The tradition of Black History Month began 95 years ago through the efforts of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who has been called the father of Black history. A Harvard-trained historian and the son of former slaves, Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASALH), which conceptualized Negro History Week in 1925.


The first event was celebrated during the second week of February 1926. This specific timeframe was selected as it contained the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. In response to the first Negro History Week, Black history clubs were formed, teachers sought instructive materials for their students, and many progressives stepped forward to support the endeavor.


Beyond the Classroom


Woodson’s inspiration for founding Negro History Week was in part a response to how Black people were underrepresented in American history books and instructional materials. He wanted to help educators coordinate their focus on the topic. Black History Month continues to provide teachers and students with insight and inspiration about African Americans’ contributions throughout U.S. history. ​


Since 1976 every U.S. president, beginning with Gerald Ford, has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries, including Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, also devote a month each year to honoring Black history.


Today Black History Month is celebrated not only in school settings but also in museums, theaters, libraries, on social media, and in corporate environments. As more organizations commit to making diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) a central part of their infrastructure, expect to see more widespread commemorations during the month-long observance.


The ASALH website offers details on the annual festival, which features speakers, panels, musicians, scholars, and more.


Making History While Celebrating History


Some notable moments in America’s Black history have coincided with Black History Month. For example, in February 1995, Dr. Bernard A. Harris Jr. became the first African American astronaut to walk in space. In February 2007, Barack Obama formally announced his candidacy for president with a speech in Springfield, Illinois. In February 2009, Eric Holder was sworn in as our country’s first African American attorney general.


In 2020 Black History Month began less than two weeks after Vice President Kamala Harris was sworn into office. She was the first woman, first Black American, and first South Asian American to be elected as U.S. Vice President. On the same day that she assumed office, Harris swore in Rev. Raphael Warnock – pastor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s church, Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta – as he became the first African American to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate.


To learn more about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, read our three-part article on How to Create Your DEI Plan.


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