Black History Month is dedicated to honoring prominent African Americans and their contributions to our nation, but why is it celebrated in February, the shortest month of the year?
The predecessor of Black History of Month was “Negro History Week”, which was chosen as the second week of February in 1926 by African American historian, Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Woodson, who was the founder of ASALH, was a respected scholar bothered by the underrepresentation of the Black population and their achievements in history books and schools. He believed that black contributions “were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them.” He also published many of his own books including Mis-Education of the Negro, which focused on the empowerment of the Black community.
So why did Carter G. Woodson specifically devote February to the commemoration of Black excellence?
The second week of February was chosen in honor of President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Fredrick Douglass’ birthdays. President Abraham Lincoln was born on the 12th and Fredrick Douglass was born on the 20th of February. Both men were influential figures of Black history who shaped what it was like to be black in the 19th century. President Lincoln emancipated the slaves of the confederacy in 1863 proclaiming that all slaves “are, and henceforward shall be free.” Fredrick Douglass was an adviser to President Lincoln as well as a distinguished abolitionist whose autobiographies served as antislavery propaganda.
February also marks other significant events such as the birthday of W. E. B. DuBois, an African American activist who co founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His birthday is on the Feb. 23 and the NAACP was founded on Feb. 12th.
The 15th amendment, which granted African American men the right to vote, was also ratified on the Feb. 3rd, 1870.
Black History Month eventually evolved into a month long recognition after President Gerald R. Ford officially declared it in 1976 as he made an appeal to:
“seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
As February comes to an end, let us not forget the contributions, sacrifices and accomplishments of our fellow Black Americans over the history of our nation. While it might be the shortest month of the year, it definitely isn’t the only opportunity to recognize and support black excellence.