Here’s the story behind Black History Month — and why it’s celebrated in February

Jonathan Franklin
UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1754: Civil rights march on Washington, DC, USA. Procession of African Americans carrying placards demanding equal rights, integrated schools, decent housing, and an end to bias. 28 August 1963. Photographer: Warren K Leffler. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

Every February, the U.S. honors the contributions and sacrifices of African Americans who have helped shape the nation. Black History Month celebrates the rich cultural heritage, triumphs and adversities that are an indelible part of our country’s history. 

(Original Caption) Carter Goodwin Woodson (1875-1950), African-American historian, is shown in a head and shoulders portrait.

First, there was Negro History Week

Critics have long argued that Black history should be taught and celebrated year-round, not just during one month each year.

It was Carter G. Woodson, the “father of Black history,” who first set out in 1926 to designate a time to promote and educate people about Black history and culture, according to W. Marvin Dulaney. He is a historian and the president of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).

Woodson envisioned a weeklong celebration to encourage the coordinated teaching of Black history in public schools. He designated the second week of February as Negro History Week and galvanized fellow historians through the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which he founded in 1915. (ASNLH later became ASALH.)

The idea wasn’t to place limitations but really to focus and broaden the nation’s consciousness.

“Woodson’s goal from the very beginning was to make the celebration of Black history in the field of history a ‘serious area of study,’ ” said Albert Broussard, a professor of Afro-American history at Texas A&M University.

The idea eventually grew in acceptance, and by the late 1960s, Negro History Week had evolved into what is now known as Black History Month. Protests around racial injustice, inequality and anti-imperialism that were occurring in many parts of the U.S. were pivotal to the change.