Black History Month arrives every February to teach American kids (and adults) about the accomplishments and contributions Black people have made to the U.S. over the country’s long history.
While educational programs reveal lots of information about certain historical figures, few people know much about Black History Month itself.
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It has roots back to 1926
Before it was a month-long celebration, the holiday began as Negro History Week in 1926. the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, led by historian Carter Woodson, announced the holiday on the second week of February.
It’s in February to coincide with two birthdays
Two historic figures in Black history in America -- Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass -- were both born in the second week of February on the 12th and 14th respectively. Woodson chose the dates of his history week to match. The NAACP, which celebrated 110 years of work in 2019, similarly came together on February 12, 1909, as a nod to Lincoln.
Churches and the Black press helped spread the holiday
While the Association waged an official campaign with state Departments of Education to get Negro History Week into school programs, an informal campaign spread information about Black history among Black people all over the U.S. Churches and newspapers were key to the effort.
It’s not just celebrated in America
The February month is recognized up in Canada too, but elsewhere in the world countries celebrate it in October. Unofficial celebrations have taken place in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
It was made a national American celebration in 1976
President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month during the American Bicentennial, officially aligning the educational month with February in American schools forever after.
Not everyone loves the program
Black History Month has received criticism that it undermines its original mission by turning Black historical figures into heroes without examining their historical contexts or the effect of their legacies on modern society. Others believe squishing Black history into a specific month fails to recognize the way Black history is interwoven with all history in America. While all agree it’s important for kids to learn more about Black history, the jury is still out on the best way to share this information.