In 1926, scholar and author Carter G. Woodson established Negro History Week to highlight African American contributions to the United States. What was once a one week recognition has blossomed into a full month, celebrated in February, in order to include the birthdays of the great antislavery activist Frederick Douglass and of President Abraham Lincoln.
While many bemoan Black History Month being relegated to the shortest month of the year, recognizing the importance of African Americans to the history of the U.S. has undeniable historical significance. Black History Month is especially important because many school curriculums do not address the range and diversity of African American achievements, contributions, struggles, and triumphs.
In an effort to spotlight all aspects of the African American experience, many schools and cultural organizations hold special exhibitions, lectures, concerts, stage plays, poetry readings, and movies during February. Children are encouraged to pay tribute to the past by reading books about inspiring historical figures and achievements in black history.
But just as black history is more than a month, so too are places where black history is observed. The U.S. isn’t the only country where Black History Month is celebrated; this is especially meaningful since the African diaspora is spread all across the world. Annual observances of black history also take place in Canada in February and in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom in October.
In the U.S., both private organizations and the federal government recognize Black History Month as a time to focus intently on the African American men and women who helped shape our nation. Search engine giant Google, a long-time advocate for civil rights and women's rights, honored abolitionist and women's rights activist Sojourner Truth on February to celebrate the start of Black History Month. Other organizations such as Coca-Cola, United Airlines, FedEx, Apple, Visa, and Microsoft observed the month by honoring accomplished black employees, hosting interactive sessions with notable black speakers, and displaying the creative works of blacks in music, law, education, science, and the arts. Additionally, these organizations have created permanent diversity programs that support inclusion initiatives that are designed to better recruit, retain and promote black leaders in the workplace.
The federal government also plays a huge role in recognizing and promoting Black History Month. The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society. Throughout the month, the Library of Congress and other organizations host several events including symposiums, lectures, panel discussions, and readings that focus on the lives of African Americans. For more information about the U.S. government’s observation of Black History Month, visit www.africanamericanhistorymonth.gov.
To review a series of historical facts, view the History Channel's overview of Black History Facts.
So this month, and throughout the year and every year, we honor and celebrate the lives and accomplishments of African American men and women who inspired not only American history, but world history.