During the month of February, Black History Month is celebrated in the United States to acknowledge the remarkable achievements, societal contributions, and role of African Americans in U.S. history.
Origins of Black History Month
Negro History Week
Black History Month was started in 1926 as “Negro History Week” by black historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The week, chosen to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, was created with the intent to encourage the teaching of African American history in segregated black public schools. Negro History Week was initially observed in classrooms in only a few states.
Desegregating Public Schools
It wasn’t until 28 years later, on May 17, 1954, that the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case declared segregated public schools unconstitutional. Although schools were ordered to desegregate their classrooms, black students still faced trouble when trying to attend classes, and advocates continued to promote the inclusion of African American history in school curriculum.
One famous example of when black students were blocked from entering a racially segregated school happened in 1957. The Little Rock Nine was a group of nine African-American students who were forcibly blocked by the Governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus. It wasn’t until the intervention of President Dwight D. Eisenhower that the students, including Minnijean Brown Trickey, were able to attend Little Rock Central High School and continue their education.
An Entire Month of Black History Celebrations
Celebrations lasting the entire month of February were first observed by students and educators at Kent State University in 1970, eventually spreading to educational institutions and black cultural and community centers nationwide. Black History Month was officially recognized by President Gerald Ford during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial in 1976. Since then, every American president has designated February as Black History Month.
Black History Month Today
Black History Month is still celebrated today as schools, universities, and communities nationwide organize local celebrations, performances and lectures to shine a light on the individual achievements and collective progress of African Americans. Leading up to Black History Month, the events and celebrations for Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January are also plentiful across the nation.
BHM 2018: African Americans in Times of War
The theme of Black History Month 2018 is “African Americans in Times of War.” Many celebrations this year, like the Greater Washington Urban League’s lecture with Malcolm Nance, will honor the roles that black Americans have played in the United States Military from the American Revolution to the present day.
Events, such as the Colorado State University Black History Month Lecture featuring Angela Davis, are an opportunity to hear from individuals who were instrumental in the civil rights movement during the 50s and 60s. As well, festivities like the Black History Month 2018 celebrations at Stony Brook University featuring Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X., provide an opportunity to acknowledge the work, impact, and sacrifice of activists who are no longer with us.
Many lectures highlight the voices of social justice activists of today, including the Black History Month Showcase at Lynchburg College featuring DeRay Mckesson, the W.M. Trotter Lecture featuring Janet Mock at Michigan State University, and the Black History Month New York Times “Times Talk” with Black Lives Matter founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi.
Other prominent celebrations across the country include the Webster University Annual MLK Dinner with a keynote address by Marc Lamont Hill; Macy’s Black History Month celebrations with actress, writer and producer Issa Rae and actress and social justice advocate Laverne Cox; and the 2018 Dr. William G. Anderson Lecture Series featuring Michael Eric Dyson.
These Black History Month celebrations provide us with the opportunity to enrich ourselves with the history and culture of black Americans, as well as acknowledge those who have significantly contributed to American society and culture in the past and present.
African American men and women have made incredible impacts on the nation as activists, writers, and community leaders. If you are looking for a speaker who can discuss race and diversity in America, its history and where we are today, connect with an agent at All American Speakers for more information.