February is Black History Month – Its History and Why It’s Important

Black History Month pays tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society.

As a Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, like W. E. B. Du Bois before him, believed that truth could not be denied and that reason would prevail over prejudice. His hopes to raise awareness of African American’s contributions to civilization was realized when he and the organization he founded, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), conceived and announced Negro History Week in 1925. The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The response was overwhelming: Black history clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive whites, not simply white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort.

By the time of Woodson’s death in 1950, Negro History Week had become a central part of African American life and substantial progress had been made in bringing more Americans to appreciate the celebration. At mid–century, mayors of cities nationwide issued proclamations noting Negro History Week. The Black Awakening of the 1960s dramatically expanded the consciousness of African Americans about the importance of black history, and the Civil Rights movement focused Americans of all colors on the subject of the contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.

The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation’s bicentennial. President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” That year, fifty years after the first celebration, the association held the first Black History Month. By this time, the entire nation had come to recognize the importance of Black history in the drama of the American story. Since then each American president has issued Black History Month proclamations. And the association—now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH)—continues to promote the study of Black history all year.

Why is Black History Month important?

The month-long celebration for Black History Month offers an opportunity to reimagine what possibilities lie ahead. But for many, the forces that drove Woodson nearly a century ago are more relevant than ever.

As Lonnie G. Bunch III, Director of the Smithsonian Institution said at the opening of the Washington D.C.’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2016: “There is no more powerful force than a people steeped in their history. And there is no higher cause than honouring our struggle and ancestors by remembering”.

2022 Theme – Black Health and Wellness

The theme for 2022 focuses on the importance of Black Health and Wellness. This theme acknowledges the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also other ways of knowing (e.g., birthworkers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc.) throughout the African Diaspora. The 2022 theme considers activities, rituals and initiatives that Black communities have done to be well.

Past Themes

1928 Civilization: A World Achievement
1929 Possibility of Putting Negro History in the Curriculum
1930 Significant Achievements of the Negro
1931 Neglected Aspects of Negro History
1932 What George Washington Bicentennial Commission Fail to Do
1933 Ethiopia Meets Error in Truth
1934 Contribution of the Negro in Poetry, in Painting, in Sculpture and in Science
1935 The Negro Achievements in Africa
1936 African Background Outlined
1937 American Negro History from the Time of Importation from Africa up to the Present Day
1938 Special Achievements of the Race: Oratory, Drama, Music, Painting, Sculpture, Science and Inventions
1939 Special Achievements of the Race: Religion, Education, Business, Architecture, Engineering, Innovation, Pioneering
1940 Negro Labor
1941 The Career of Frederick Douglass
1942 The Negro in Democracy
1943 The Negro in the Modern World
1944 The Negro and the New Order
1945 The Negro and Reconversion
1946 Let us Have Peace
1947 Democracy Possible only Through Brotherhood
1948 The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth
1949 The Use of Spirituals in the Classroom
1950- Outstanding Moments in Negro History
1951 Eminent Negroes in World Affairs
1952 Great Negro Educators (Teachers)
1953 Negro History and Human Relations
1954 Negro History: A Foundation for Integration
1955 Negro History: A Contribution to America’s Intercultural Life
1956 Negro History in an Era of Changing Human Relations
1957 Negro History
1958 Negro History: A Factor in Nationalism and Internationalism
1959 Negro History: A Foundation for a Proud America
1960 Strengthening America Through Education in Negro History and African Culture
1961 Freedom and Democracy for the Negro after 100 years (1861-1961)
1962 Negro History and a New Birth of Freedom
1963 Negro History Evaluates Emancipation (1863-1963)
1964 Negro History: A Basis for the New Freedom
1965 Negro History: Freedom’s Foundation
1966 Freedom from Racial Myths and Stereotypes Through Negro History
1967 Negro History in the Home, School, and the Community
1968 The Centennial of the Fourteenth Amendment Afro American History Week
1969 Changing the Afro American Image through History
1970 15th Amendment and Black America in the Century (1870-1970)
1971 African Civilization and Culture: A Worthy Historical Background
1972 African Art, Music, Literature; a Valuable Cultural Experience
1973 Biography Illuminates the Black Experience
1974 Helping America Understand
1975 Fulfilling America’s Promise: Black History Month
1976 America for All Americans
1977 Heritage Days: The Black Perspective; the Third Century
1978 Roots, Achievements and Projections
1979 History: Torch for the future
1980 Heritage for America
1981 Black History: Role Model for Youth
1982 Afro American Survival
1983 Afro Americans in the United States
1984 Afro Americans and Education
1985 Afro American Family
1986 Afro American Experience: International Connection
1987 Afro Americans and the Constitution from Colonial Times to the Present
1988 Constitutional Status of Afro Americans in the 21st Century
1989 Afro Americans and Religion
1990 Seventy-Five Years of Scholarly Excellence: A Homage to Our Forebearers
1991 Educating America: Black Universities and Colleges, Strengths and Crisis
1992 African Roots Experience New Worlds, Pre-Columbus to Space Exploration
1993 Afro-American Scholars: Leaders, Activists and Writers
1994 Empowering Black Americans
1995 Reflections on 1895: Douglass, Du Bois & Washington
1996 Black Women
1997 African Americans and Civil Rights; a Reprisal
1998 Black Business
1999 Legacy of African American Leadership for the Present and the Future
2000 Heritage and Horizons: The African American Legacy and the Challenges for the 21st Century
2001 Creating and Defining the African American Community: Family, Church Politics and Culture
2002 The Color Line Revisited: Is Racism Dead?
2003 The Souls of Black Folks: Centennial Reflections
2004 Before Brown, Beyond Boundaries: Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education
2005 The Niagara Movement: Black Protest Reborn, 1905-2005
2006 Celebrating Community: A Tribute to Black Fraternal, Social, and Civil Institutions
2007 From Slavery to Freedom: Africans in the Americas
2008 Carter G. Woodson and the Origins of Multiculturalism
2009 The Quest for Black Citizenship in the Americas
2010 The History of Black Economic Empowerment
2011 African Americans and the Civil War
2012 Black Women in American Culture and History
2012 President Barack Obama National Black History Month Proclamation
2013 At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation
and the March on Washington
2014 Civil Rights in America
2015 A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture
2016 Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories
2017 The Crisis in Black Education
2018 African Americans in Times of War
2019 Black Migrations
2020 African Americans and the Vote
2021 The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity

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