The Legacy of Black History Month

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

By Ella Canavan '21

Notre Dame

Every year, the month of February celebrates Black history in the country. For many people this means commemorating Black activists, artists, singers, etc. But what does the celebration of Black History Month really represent?

“Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements of African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history,” according to Black history month originally rooted from black history week, started by Carter G. Woodson, an African American scholar, historian, educator, and publisher. Half a century after slavery was abolished, in 1915, Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Today the organization is known as Association for the Study of African American Life and History, but in 1926 it was this group that chose the second week of February, aligning with both Fredrick Douglass and Abraham Lincolins birthdays, to celebrate black history week. Woodson got the idea for the association that would later launch Black History Week at a gathering in Chicago in 1915 celebrating the 50 year anniversary of emancipation. Woodson believed that African Americans were not being taught enough about their heritage and the achievements of their ancestors in the 19th century. When first struck with the idea to further educate and honor African Americans, Woodson went to his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi to help him get the word out about Negro History and Literature week in 1924, before gaining enough traction to launch an official Black History Week in 1926. Now, since 1976, black history week has been an entire month long, otherwise known as Black History Month.

Now, this past February 2021, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History named “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity” the theme for Black History Month. The Association stated that the goal of their theme each year is not to limit the exploration of the Black experience, but to bring to the public’s attention important developments that merit emphasis. When speaking specifically about this year's theme, “The Black family knows no single location since family reunions and genetic-ancestry searches testify to the spread of family members across states, countries, and continents. Not only are individual Black families diasporic, but Africa and the diasporic itself have been long portrayed as the Black family at large. The family offers a rich tapestry of images exploring the African American past and present. (The Black History Month Theme for 2021 Is…)”

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