New Blog Series: “Honoring Accomplishments” – African-American Achievements in Life and Society

Photograph of gathered attendees of the Lincoln Jubilee, a historical predecessor of Black History Month, 1915. (Public Domain)
Photograph of the building where the first Black History Month celebrations took place at Kent State University, c. 1970. (Wikimedia Commons)

In recognition and celebration of Black History Month, the Reagan Library Education Blog is pleased to announce its latest blog series!

Observed in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, Black History Month is an annual series of observances focused on reviewing, analyzing, and ultimately celebrating the African diaspora. The earliest stirrings of Black History Month can be traced directly to the early twentieth century with African-American historian Carter G. Woodson. As the founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), Woodson observed that there was no specific day or time of Black centric celebrations at the national level in the United States. Local Black communities would sometimes hold such holidays on their own, specifically on the calendar dates of February 12 and 14, respectively celebrating the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. After attending the Lincoln Jubilee in Bronzeville, Chicago in 1915 – an anniversary celebration of fifty years of emancipation from slavery – nationwide attention was drawn to the ceremony as thousands attended the proceedings. Inspired by their example, Woodson and the ASNLH proposed that the second week of February be declared “Negro History Week,” a seven day time span that would be specifically dedicated to studying and remembering the history of the African diaspora in the United States. In the first few years after its inception in 1926, “Negro History Week” was largely relegated to a select few education departments in North Carolina, Delaware, and West Virginia, as well as a few cities such as Baltimore, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. The event grew larger as time went on, with the academic Journal of Negro History observing in 1929 that the weekly celebrations had spread to “every state with considerable Negro population,” aided in large part by African-American churches and press organizations. Some historians have observed that the historical discoveries made during “Negro History Week” ran contrary to the increasingly-popular “Lost Cause” myth in the southern states, a pro-Confederate revision of history which claimed that African-Americans were “better off” in their pre-Civil War enslavement. Decades later, the better-known “Black History Month” was proposed by an alliance of African-American professors and members of the Black United Students at Kent State University in 1969. Kent State University recognized and celebrated the month for the first time in 1970. In 1976, amid the nationwide celebrations of the United States Bicentennial, President Gerald Ford formally recognized Black History Month and called for all Americans in the country to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Since it was first recognized at the national level in 1976, Black History Month has long since spread to the public and private affairs of every state and territory in the country, and continues to recognize the heritage and achievements of African-Americans throughout the history of the United States.

As always, please make sure to frequently check the Reagan Library Education Blog to read the latest posts in this series!

Written by Nicholas J. Dilley, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum

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