BY STEPHANIE COSBY
As Metro Detroit college students in the 21st century, many of us are well accustomed to a February tradition: Black History Month. We have learned about the great words and deeds of African American history makers such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells, and many more. How often, however, do we hear about the origins of Black History Month?
The commemorated month began in February 1926 as “Negro History Week.” Educator and historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson was disgruntled that most history books and lessons at the time “simply omitted any African American history,” according to the NAACP. FactMonster.com says that if blacks were not ignored completely in books, they showed up briefly “in ways that reflected the inferior social position they were assigned at the time.”
Woodson, one of the first African Americans to earn a PhD from Harvard University in 1912, made it his life’s mission to make sure African American history was told. “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated,” he said.
In addition to writing several books and creating the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (formerly the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History) Carter named the second week in February as Negro History Week. He chose that particular week because it included the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two important voices for the African American population.
Negro History Week was expanded to today’s Black History Month in 1976. According to the NAACP, “since then, Black History Month has offered an opportunity to study, reflect on, and redefine our ongoing legacy in American history.”