Mayor Mignogna reflects on our country’s path to Black History Month.
February marks the celebration of African American History Month.
Americans have recognized African American History Month annually since 1926. It was pioneered by Dr. Carter Woodson and originally called Negro History Week. Born to parents of former slaves, Woodson spent his childhood working in the Kentucky coal mines and enrolled in high school at 20 years old. He graduated within two years and later went on to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard.
Woodson was disturbed to find in his studies that history books largely ignored the accomplishments of African Americans and took on the challenge of writing them into the nation’s history. He established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now called the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH) in 1915, and a year later founded the widely respected Journal of Negro History. In 1926, he launched Negro History Week as an initiative to bring national attention to the contributions of African Americans throughout American History.
Woodson chose the second week of February for the celebration since it marked the birthdays of two men who greatly influenced the African American population, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
By the time of Woodson’s death in 1950, Negro History Week had become a central part of African American life and substantial progress had been made in bringing more Americans to appreciate the celebration. At mid-century, mayors of cities nationwide issued proclamations noting Negro History Week.
The Black Awakening of the 1960s dramatically expanded the consciousness of African Americans about the importance of their history, and the Civil Rights movement focused Americans of all color on the subject of the contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.
The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, which was the nation’s bicentennial. President Gerald 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.”
A half century after the first celebration, ASALH held the first African American History Month. By this time, the entire nation had come to recognize the importance of African American history in the drama of the American story. Since then, each American president has issued African American History Month proclamations.
The Black History Month 2018 theme, “African Americans in Times of War,” marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and honors the roles that black Americans have played in warfare, from the American Revolution to the present day.