In 1926, the history of persons of African ancestry was largely ignored—not studied; not documented. African presence in America dates back to pre-colonial times, yet it was not until the 20th century that persons of African ancestry took it upon themselves to chronicle and commemorate their troubled and triumphant history in this country. Eventually, mainstream historians and curriculum writers began to infuse black history into their materials.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the founder of Black History Month and the dean of black history in the United States. His personal story explains his commitment to the cause.
Born to former slaves, Woodson spent his childhood working in the Kentucky coal mines. He enrolled in high school at twenty, graduated within two years, and subsequently earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University.
As a student, the lack of positive images of black people deeply troubled Woodson. Those depictions that existed reinforced stereotypes and promote white supremacy. He took matters into his own hands.
Woodson wrote black history. In 1926, he launched “Negro History Week” to draw attention to the contributions of black people.
Woodson chose the second week of February for Negro History Week because it marks the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, both of whom had a profound impact on black Americans.
Thank you, Dr. Woodson, for Black History Month. There may well come a time when Black History Month is obsolete—no longer needed—because American history is taught as an inclusive, people’s history. That day has not yet come. Let’s celebrate, shall we?