The Origin of Black History Month

February is Black History Month (which has sometimes been called African-American History Month). It began in 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on December 6, 1865, after the Civil War ended. It officially abolished slavery in America. The Thirteenth Amendment says: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”.

The story of Black History Month started in Chicago, in the summer of 1915. Carter G. Woodson, and alumnus of the University of Chicago, traveled from Washington D.C. To participate in a national celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation that was taking place in Chicago (and was sponsored by the State of Illinois).

Woodson was among the exhibitors with a black history display. The event was popular. It had an overflow crowd of six to twelve thousand people who wanted to view the exhibits and who waited outside.

On September 9, 1915, Carter G. Woodson met with A.L. Jackson (and three others) and formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). In 1924, encouraged by Woodson who was a graduate member, Omega Psi Phi created the Negro History and Literature Week, which was renamed Negro Achievement Week. In 1926, the organization set out a press release announcing Negro History Week in February.

After that, Negro History Week appeared across the country in schools and in the public. In the 1940’s efforts within the black community began to expand the study of black history in schools, and to have black history celebrations in public. In that same decade, blacks in West Virginia began celebrating February as Negro History Month.

In 1976, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History used its influence to shift Negro History week to a Black History Month. That same year, President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Ever since then, every American president has designated February as Black History Month. A new theme is selected each year. The theme for the 2017 Black History Month is “The Crisis in Black Education”. The theme for the 2018 Black History Month will be “African Americans in Times of War”.

Related Articles at

* Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture

* African-American Research Site

* Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society 37th Conference

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