In 1776, as a part of the bi-centennial celebration, President Gerald Ford signed into law declaring February as the Black History Month.
The official celebration began in 1926 when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) sent out a press release announcing Negro History Week on the second week of February. It was strategically chosen to encompass the birthdays of two great men who had a prominent role in shaping black history, namely Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass, whose birthdays are the 12th and 14th, respectively. In reality, the African American community had been celebrating Black history in February since the end of the Civil War.
The call for celebrating African American history was well received nationally, and by 1929 all but two states’ departments of education have made the event known to that state’s teachers and distributed official literature associated with the event. Its popularity grew, with many mayors across the country endorsing it as a holiday.
Black United Students first proposed black History Month at Kent State University in February of 1969. The first celebration took place at Kent State the following year from January 2 to February 28. Within the next six years, Black History Month was celebrated by all 50 states, and President Ford signed it into U.S. law in 1976.
Carter G. Woodson, in his launching the Black History week, contended that the teaching of black history was essential to ensure the physical and intellectual survival of the race within the broader society:
“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. The American Indian left no continuous record. He did not appreciate the value of tradition; and where is he today? The Hebrew keenly appreciated the value of tradition, as is attested by the Bible itself. In spite of worldwide persecution, therefore, he is a great factor in our civilization.”
As a Progressive Christian, we are keenly aware of the importance of a community. The community ethos is sustained through traditions and rituals a community creates to celebrate itself and its members. Culture is about people and relationships, and the African American History Month helps all of us understand who we are and how we can appreciate one another. We all have been influenced by the African Americans in our society ranging from music, politics, literature, sports, food, and much more.
As people of God, let us celebrate this important month.