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Black History Month
Also called African-American History Month
Observed by United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Netherlands
Significance Celebration of the African diaspora including, African-American history
Date
  • February (US and Canada)
  • October (Europe)

Black History Month is an annual observance originating in the United States, where it is also known as African-American History Month. It has received official recognition from governments in the United States and Canada, and more recently has been observed in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

It began as a way of remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. It is celebrated in February in the United States and Canada, while in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom it is observed in October.

History

Carter G Woodson portrait
Carter G. Woodson (1875–1950)

Negro History Week (1926)

The precursor to Black History Month was created in 1926 in the United States, when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be "Negro History Week". This week was chosen because it coincided with the birthday of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and of Frederick Douglass on February 20, both of which dates black communities had celebrated together since the late 19th century. Negro History Week was the center of the equation. The thought-process behind the week was never recorded, but scholars acknowledge two reasons for its birth: recognition and importance. Woodson felt deeply that at least one week would allow for the general movement to become something annually celebrated. Also, after the ten year long haul to successfully complete his "Journal of Negro History", he realized the subject deserved to resonate with a greater audience.

From the event's initial phase, primary emphasis was placed on encouraging the coordinated teaching of the history of black Americans in the nation's public schools.

At the time of Negro History Week's launch, Woodson contended that the teaching of black history was essential to ensure the physical and intellectual survival of the race within broader society.

Churches also played a significant role in the distribution of literature in association with Negro History Week during this initial interval, with the mainstream and black press aiding in the publicity effort.

Negro History Week grew in popularity throughout the following decades, with mayors across the United States endorsing it as a holiday.

United States: Black History Month (1970)

Kuumba House - Black United Students 1st Black Culture Center 1969
The Black United Students first Black culture center (Kuumba House) where many events of the first Black History Month celebration took place.

Black History Month was first proposed by black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University in February 1969. The first celebration of Black History Month took place at Kent State one year later, from January 2 to February 28, 1970.

Six years later, Black History Month was being celebrated all across the country in educational institutions, centers of Black culture and community centers, both great and small, when President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month in 1976, during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial. He urged Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history".

In the black community, Black History Month was met with enthusiastic response; it prompted the creation of Black history clubs, an increase in interest among teachers, and interest from progressive whites.

On February 21, 2016, 106-year Washington D.C. resident and school volunteer Virginia McLaurin visited the White House as part of Black History Month. When asked by the president why she was there, McLaurin said, "A Black president. A Black wife. And I’m here to celebrate Black history. That's what I'm here for."

United Kingdom (1987)

Handbill - Pugilism, or Self-Defence - 1822
1822 handbill advertising a Black boxing tutor in Alnwick, Northumberland; tweeted by Northumberland Archives as part of Black History Month in 2020

In the United Kingdom, Black History Month was first celebrated in October 1987 (which year was also coincidentally the 150th anniversary of Caribbean emancipation, the centenary of the birth of Marcus Garvey and the 25th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity, an institution dedicated to advancing the progress of African states).

Black History Month in the UK was organised through the leadership of Ghanaian analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, who had served as a coordinator of special projects for the Greater London Council (GLC) and created a collaboration to get it underway. It was first celebrated in London in 1987, as part of African Jubilee Year, when on October 1 Dr Maulana Karenga from the US was invited to an event at County Hall to mark the contributions of Black people throughout history, and Addai-Sebo drew up a plan to recognise the contributions of African, Asian and Caribbean people to the economic, cultural and political life in the UK, with other boroughs beginning formally to institute October as Black History Month in the UK.

Canada (1995)

In 1995, after a motion by politician Jean Augustine, representing the riding of Etobicoke—Lakeshore in Ontario, Canada's House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month and honored Black Canadians. In 2008, Senator Donald Oliver moved to have the Senate officially recognize Black History Month, which was unanimously approved.

Republic of Ireland (2010)

Ireland's Great Hunger Institute, at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, notes: "Black History Month Ireland was initiated in Cork in 2010. This location seems particularly appropriate as, in the 19th century, the city was a leading center of abolition, and the male and female anti-slavery societies welcomed a number of black abolitionists to lecture there, including Charles Lenox Remond and Frederick Douglass."

Developments

In 2018, Instagram created its first-ever Black History Month program with the help of its then Head of Global Music & Youth Culture Communications, SHAVONE.

By 2020, Black History Month had become a focus beyond schools. The Wall Street Journal describes it as "a time when the culture and contributions of African Americans take center stage" in a variety of cultural institutions including theaters, libraries and museums. It has also garnered attention from the U.S. business community.

In February 2020 Forbes noted that "much of corporate America is commemorating" Black History Month including The Coca-Cola Company, Google, Target Corporation, Macy's, United Parcel Service and Under Armour.

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