Beginning and Significance of Black History Month

By Reverend Jesse Voyd Bottoms, Jr.

Black History celebrations have done much to preserve and point up the contributions and achievements of the African Americans in our history. Too much praise cannot be given to Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who organized the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASALH) in 1915 and originated the Celebration of Negro History Week in 1926.

Educator, author, editor, administrator and historian Woodson was born in Buckingham County, Virginia, but came to Huntington, Virginia as a teenager to pursue his education. He graduated from Douglas High School in 1896 and returned there as principal from 1900 to 1903. He continued his education at Berea College and the University of Chicago, earning a Ph.D. degree from Harvard University.

Dr. Woodson’s book “The Negro in Our History”, first published in 1922, was for many years the most popular and valued book on the subject. His essays “The Mis-education of the Negro” first published in 1933 continue to provide challenge and stimulus for Black Americans.

Single-handedly Dr. Woodson, through these writings and his organizational ability, promoted and insured the viability of Black History in schools and colleges of this country. This was his first direct approach to mass education, designed to replace mis-education of the African American with documented facts.

He was convinced that if a race had no recorded history, its achievements would be forgotten or ignored, and eventually claimed by others. In February 1926 through ASALH, Dr. Woodson launched a campaign for “Negro History Week.” “Negro History Week” was Dr. Woodson’s second direct approach to securing for the African American a firm basis for self-confidence, and for a revision of public opinion. The new observation was built to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas, on February 12 and 14, about the second week in February, the beginning date varying with the calendar.

Circulars of information and suggestions for commemorative activities were sent to educational institutions, public libraries, religious, fraternal and labor organizations, social welfare and literary societies. Everywhere the call was answered with enthusiasm. Book displays were mounted, lectures and speakers called in, and successful personalities presented as “living examples” of Black accomplishment. From the beginning, news stories and editorials were printed and numerous pamphlets were published. The first “Negro History Week” was a definite success and the movement was off the ground and flying.

Dr. Woodson devoted his life to the mission of researching and documenting African American history. Woodson believed that an accurate understanding of Afro-American history would promote pride within the Black community. He also believed that greater understanding would foster greater respect for the Black community within the broader society.

Carter G. Woodson brought to the forefront a critically important aspect of the nation’s past that most historians had distorted or ignored altogether. Stately in appearance and reserved in manner but with a fervor in his commitment, Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, is universally acknowledged as the “Father of Afro-American History.”

Dr. Woodson said, “We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in History. What we need 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 should be no indulgence in undue eulogy of the Negro. The case of the Negro is well taken care of when it is shown how he has influenced the development of civilization.”

In 1976 the observation was expanded to National Afro-American History Month in honor of the Nation’s Bicentennial. Since 1976, U.S. Presidents have praised the mission of ASALH and urged Americans to celebrate Afro-American History Month. ASALH has established the national theme for the Black History Month celebration each year since 1926.

At the dawn of these strivings and at all points along the road, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) has played a vital role. When he founded the Association in 1915, Carter G. Woodson labored under the belief that historical truth would crush falsehoods and usher in a new era of equality, opportunity, and racial democracy, and it has been its charge for a century. In honor of that milestone, ASALH selected “A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture” as the 2015 National Black History theme.

The 2018 Theme for Black History Month is: “The African American In Times of War”
The 103rd Annual Meeting and Conference of ASALA will be held October 3-7, 2018, at the Marriott Hilton Downtown, Indianapolis, IN. Consult www.ASALH.ORG for information.

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