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Black History Month: Origins

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The “history” of Black History Month goes as far back as the summer of 1915. It was then that Carter G. Woodson traveled to Washington D.C. to participate in the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation, sponsored by the state of Illinois.

Inspired by the number of people interested in the celebration, Woodson decided to form an organization called “The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.” He also sought to spread this spirit of Black Pride in the Journal of Negro History, which he founded in 1916.

In 1920, Woodson talked to black civic organizations to promote achievements that researchers were finding. A graduate member of Omega Psi Phi from the University of Chicago, he urged his fraternity brothers to do their own research. In 1924, they responded with the creation of Negro History and Literature Week, later renamed Negro Achievement Week. This made a significant impact, but Woodson wanted more.

Woodson proceeded to gather and popularize knowledge about the African-American past. He sent out a press release announcing the first Negro History Week in February 1926. However, he never believed that black history should be viewed as a one-week affair. His hope was that schools would use Negro History Week to highlight part of students’ regular studies. He wanted blacks to be able to learn about their history every day, not just one week a year. He spoke of a new vision: not just Negro History Week, but Negro History Year.

Negro History Week began the shift to Black History Month during the 1960’s. In 1976, fifty years after the first celebration, Woodson’s Association officially made the shift from a week to a month and from Negro history to black history.

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