Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Rachel. Rachel Wonders, “What is black history month?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Rachel!
If it’s February, it must be Black History Month! You may already know that in February, the whole United States celebrates the role of Black people in our history and culture. Other countries, like the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands, observe it too. But have you ever WONDERed who started Black History Month, and why? How did it begin?
Let’s go all the way back to 1915. That year, an African-American historian named Carter G. Woodson founded what is now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. At that time, students learned very little about Black Americans. Black history was not even in school books! Woodson aimed to change that. He wanted everyone to know more about Black history. So the ASALH started “Negro History Week.” Woodson’s idea was to have a week to honor African American history. He hoped that this week would inspire others to keep learning about Black history throughout the year.
He chose the second week in February. That week includes both Frederick Douglass’ and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays. Why them? Frederick Douglass was an enslaved person who escaped. He then worked to end slavery for everyone. He became a very important leader of the abolitionist movement in the United States. Abraham Lincoln was the president of the United States during the Civil War. He signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which led to the end of slavery in the United States. Woodson saw both Douglass and Lincoln as symbols of freedom for Black Americans.
Woodson’s idea caught on, and many schools and communities celebrated with him. Churches and schools would hold picnics, hear speeches, or put on plays. As the years passed, the celebrations continued. Some began to feel that a week was not enough time!
In the 1950s and 60s, the Civil Rights Movement began to change a lot about America. It even changed how Black history was taught. College students demanded more classes about African-American history and culture. Black students wanted the chance to learn history that included them and their ancestors. They also argued that Black history is an important part of American history. Students protested and, in some cases, won their demands. The first college to form a Black Studies program was San Francisco State University, in 1968. Over 600 other colleges followed their lead in the next five years.
Along with these changes, some colleges began to observe Black History Month, instead of just a week. In 1976, Gerald Ford was the first president to recognize Black History Month nationally. That was 50 years after Woodson started “Negro History Week.”
Since then, we have celebrated Black History Month each year. Communities all over the country take time to honor to Black history and culture. Many schools celebrate the month by teaching students about important African-Americans in history. How is Black History Month observed in your community? At your school? February is a special month for many because of these events. But Dr. Woodson intended his celebration to inspire learning all year long. His goal was to draw attention to the importance of Black people in the history and culture of the United States—not just for one week, or month, but forever. How can we keep Dr. Woodson’s legacy alive?
Standards: CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.3, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.4, CCRA.L.5, CCRA.L.6, C3.D2.His.2, C3.D2.His.3, C3.D2.His.4, C3.D2.His.5, C3.D2.His.6, C3.D2.Civ.2, C3.D2.Civ.8, C3.D2.Civ.10, NCAS.CR.1, NCAS.CR.2, NCAS.CR.3, NCAS.CN.10