Black History Month begins with Carter G. Woodson. Woodson traveled to Chicago in the summer of 1915 to participate in the three-week celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation. Woodson joined the exhibitors with a display on black history. Thousands of African-Americans came from across the country and the venue overflowed with people waiting to see the exhibits.
Inspired by the celebration, Woodson and four others founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (later renamed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History). The Association was committed to studying the life, history, and accomplishments of the African diaspora that was underrepresented in American academia.
After years of research and outreach, the organization announced the first Negro History Week in February 1926 to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas (February 12th and February 14th). In conjunction with the celebration of those birthdays, schools and communities nationwide organized history clubs as well as hosting events highlighting African-American history and culture.
Negro History Week gained in popularity over the decades and with the rise of Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, the week began to evolve into a month long celebration. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month on the fiftieth anniversary of Negro History Week and the United States Bicentennial. All American were urged to “seize the opportunity to honor the oft-neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Carter G. Woodson died on April 3, 1950 in Washington, D.C. Woodson believed that black history was too important to America and the world to be taught in a limited time frame and should be taught all year long.
Black History Month has been observed outside the United States in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Ireland.