Black History Month is a time to celebrate and commemorate the contributions of African Americans to society. Celebrated starting February 1, this month-long observance highlights key historical and present-day figures and their importance. In 1915, historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson, often referred to as the Father of Black History, started a movement to acknowledge and celebrate the unacknowledged contributions of African Americans. Eleven years later, the second week of February was designated as Negro History Week to acknowledge the birth dates of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and president Abraham Lincoln.
Although Negro History Week lasted a decade, the celebration would fizzle out and go decades before being recognized again. Providing learning materials to aid in educating the community about Black History, Woodson’s vision was realized. The popularity of Negro History Week spread and soon, demand outgrew supply. Dying in 1950, Woodson did not live to see the once weekly event evolve into a month-long exploration of Black excellence.
Fast forward to the 1960s when Black colleges and universities banded together to ensure that African Americans secured their rightful place in history, the movement for a formal acknowledgement again gained momentum. First celebrated in 1970 at Ohio’s Kent State University, Black History Month soon spread to other colleges and universities.
Some city officials were celebrating Black History Month in their own confines, but it was not until later when it became a national event. In 1976, President Gerald Ford became the first president to recognize the formalize the observance. With every president after following suit, Black History Month became a permanent staple in American history. Other countries across the globe have their own celebrations.
Now, Black History Month not only serves as a time to spread awareness of Black historical figures, but to celebrate the accomplishments of Black people in the present. As America witnesses the attempted erasure of Black bodies, rights and civil liberties, it becomes even more important to ensure the continued success of the celebration of accomplishments.
In an effort to specifically recognize Black women who made a contribution to society, President Bill Clinton signed the Presidential Proclamation 6863. Highlighting individuals such as Sojourner Truth and Mary McLeod Bethune, the proclamation was the first of its kind.
Since then, each president annually issues a decree during Black History Month to honor Black achievement in specific areas. During his 2016 remarks for the Black History Month Reception, President Barack Obama said that he hopes to use Black history celebrations to serve as a reminder of progression.
“It’s about the lived, shared experience of all African Americans, high and low, famous and obscure, and how those experiences have shaped and challenged and ultimately strengthened America. It’s about taking an unvarnished look at the past so we can create a better future. It’s a reminder of where we as a country have been so that we know where we need to go,” President Obama said.
In 2019, former president Donald Trump issued a proclamation, Black Migrations, to shed light on African Americans who left the rural south for other parts of the country. In 2020, the 150th anniversary of the 15th amendment, former President Trump’s proclamation was African Americans and Vote.
In schools, Black History Month gives students the opportunity to explore pivotal Black moments. For some students, February is the only time contributions of the Black community are identified and discussed.
Companies are also doing their part to celebrate Black History Month. Most recently, tech giant Apple announced during February, customers will be able to visit the App Store and see a specially curated hub highlighting Black-owned businesses, games, social justice apps and entertainment.
In its arsenal of celebrations across its multiple platforms, Apple will also feature Black-focused content for Apple Books, a celebration of Black music for the Apple Music app and a limited-edition Apple Watch designed under the Black Unity Collection.
A celebration that should be year-round, African Americans continue adding a sense of luxury to American history through the prism of Blackness. From the first Black president, vice president and First Lady, to scores of Black athletes and prominent Black figures, Black History Month will continue to provide a space of recognition and celebration.