“The celebration tends not to promote propaganda, but to counteract it by popularizing the truth. It is not interested so much in Negro History as it is in history influenced by the Negro; for what the world needs is not a history of selected races or nations but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice. There has been therefore, no tendency to euologize the Negro nor to abuse his enemies. The aim has been to emphasize important facts in the belief that facts properly set forth will speak for themselves…”
– Dr. Carter G. Woodson
Editor, scholar, historian and recognized “Father of Black History Month,” Dr. Carter G. Woodson believed that knowledge and understanding of African and African-American History would play an integral role in the future of African-Americans and America as a whole. He envisioned an era when such a specified delineation between African-American History and general American History would be unnecessary. He hoped that society’s knowledge of African-American History would flow seamlessly into that of American History; the role which Africans and African-Americans played in history would be simply acknowledged and reasonably accepted.
With this thought in mind, he established Negro History Week in February 1926. He selected February for this observance because the birthdays of two historical figures key to African-American History fall during this month. The accepted birthday of Frederick Douglass is on February 14th and that of Abraham Lincoln is on February 12th. Since Dr. Woodson set aside this week, it has expanded to encompass the whole of February.
He created this holiday under the auspices of the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History, ASALH, which he founded in 1915. This organization still advocates for the support and continued study of African and African-American history. They select a yearly theme for this purpose. This year’s theme is “Celebrating Community: A Tribute to Black Fraternities, Social and Civic Institutions.”*
Prior to integration African-American fraternal, social, and civic organizations provided and continue to provide a foundation which African-Americans could utilize to foster social, political, and economic opportunities. Black Greek Letter fraternities and sororities, the first of which, Alpha Phi Alpha, was established in 1906, offered black collegiates an affirming peer based support group. These organizations have a long legacy of advocating for social justice and providing social service to their communities. From their inception, these organizations also sought to network with other social and civic organizations such as the National Association of Colored Women Clubs and the Urban League. African-American social and civic organizations have evolved to meet the changing needs of African-Americans and include newer entities like Jack and Jill, a social group for African-American youth, and 100 Black Men, Inc., which works to improve eduacational and social opportunities for African-Americans and other minorities.
Black History Month has become more than an intellectual cause or obligation. It has grown to become a genuine celebration of a rich cultural heritage and historical legacy. All across America, schools, churches, civic and social organizations celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of African-Americans from Crispus Attucks to Mae Jamison. The tapestry that is the experience of the African and African-American Diaspora touches the lives of many around the world. With each year, we come that much closer to Dr. Woodson’s vision, a seamless narrative of history which is far more inclusive than exclusive, one where the historical significance of the contributions of Africans and African-Americans as well as other peoples are neither marginalized nor ignored but melded into the telling of history in a way that makes it that much more truthful and enriching for those who inherit it.
*Black History Month Themes:
-2007 From Slavery to Freedom: The Story of Africans in the Americas
-2008 The Mis~Education of Black Folks