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How Negro History Week Became Black History Month

Updated on February 21, 2020
Cheryl E Preston profile image

Cheryl is a freelance writer, newspaper columnist, poet, licensed/ordained minister and founder of two outreach ministries.

The beginning

In February, in recent years, there have been African Americans who say in regard to black history; 'They gave us the shortest month." The implication being that somehow blacks have been shortchanged regarding the history of those who descended from Africans who were enslaved in the United States. This is not true as there were no non-blacks involved in starting this annual event. It was an educated African American male who got the ball rolling that has led to the February observance. In 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson in conjunction with The Association For The Study of Negro Life and History decided that the second week of February would become "Negro History Week". The reason this particular week was chosen is that it coincided with the birth dates of two men who were important to newly freed slaves.

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12 and Frederick Douglas on day 14 of the second month. African American communities had been celebrating both dates since the 19th century. Negro History Week became the center of this equation but the exact details behind this idea were never recorded. There are scholars who believe there are two reasons for the inception of Negro History Week.; importance and recognition. Carter G Woodson felt very strongly that this one week would eventually lead the movement to become an annual celebration. From the beginning, this event's primary focus was to encourage the coordinated teaching of the history of African America in public schools across the USA.

The founder

Carter Godwin Woodson was born on December 19, 1875, in Canton, Virginia. His parents were James Henry and Ann Eliza(Riddle) Woodson, former slaves who both could read. Carter became an American author, historian, and journalist who was the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Woodson was one of the first scholars to study African-American history and is considered the father of black history. Initially, he had to delay his education in order to work in the coal mines. He eventually enrolled in Berea College and became a teacher as well as a school administrator.

Woodson obtained graduate degrees from the University of Chicago and in 1912 became the second African American to Obtain a Ph.D. from Harvard University. (The first was W. E. B. Debois). Woodson later became the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Howard University. In 1908, Carter G Woodson attended the University of Chicago where he was awarded an A.B. and A.M. He never married or had children and died of a heart attack on April 3, 1950, in Shaw, Washington DC.

Carter G Woodson
Carter G Woodson

Gaining popularity

The first Negro History Week was met with a lukewarm reception but had the cooperation of the Departments of Education of the states of Delaware, West Virginia, and North Carolina. The city school administrations of Washington DC and Baltimore were also supportive. According to The Journal of Negro History, just three years after Carter G Woodson's efforts began to pay off. In 1929, officials within the State Department of Education of every state with a decent black population, (except two) made Negro History week known to that state's teachers and gave them official literature that promoted the event. Churches were also instrumental in distributing information that was associated with observing Negro History Week. Both the mainstream and black press were key in promoting this special week.

Negro History Week grew in popularity during the decades that followed and was endorsed by mayors across America as a holiday. Celebrating Black History for an entire month was first proposed in 1969, by African American students and black faculty members at Kent State. The first celebration of Black History Month took place one year later at Kent State. Six years after this, in 1976 Black History Month was being celebrated all across the country in community centers, educational institutions, and centers of Black culture. During the nation's bicentennial celebration President Gerald Ford acknowledged Black History Month, and admonished Americans to take advantage of the opportunity to honor the accomplishments of African Americans that have for too long been neglected,

Research information and read books.
Research information and read books.

Moving forward

There is an old saying that tells us if we want to hide something from black folk, just put it in a book. In today's world, Internet search engines have taken precedent over old fashioned research in books, dictionaries, and encyclopedia's. A simple search for the truth would have dispelled the urban myth that "they' (white people) gave "us" (black folk) the shortest month in the year for African American History. Spread the word and motivate yourself as well as others to investigate facts before spreading untruth. There are also two important lessons to be learned from Carter G Woodson. The first is to pursue knowledge through education and the second is to make your own personal history.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Cheryl E Preston


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    • Cheryl E Preston profile imageAUTHOR

      Cheryl E Preston 

      3 months ago from Roanoke

      Thank you so much. God bless

    • OGUNDARE OLUSEGUN profile image


      3 months ago from NIGERIA

      Thanks, we are growing beyond the level they have placed us. Love history and this documentation is wondrous. Good work.

    • Cheryl E Preston profile imageAUTHOR

      Cheryl E Preston 

      3 months ago from Roanoke

      Yes you are correct.

    • emge profile image

      MG Singh 

      3 months ago from Singapore

      Interesting article. Change of nomenclature from Negro to black does not alter history.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      3 months ago from The Caribbean

      I appreciate this information. There is till so much to know about African-American history. thanks for filling in this gap. Yea, we need to read.


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