FEBRUARY IS NATIONAL BLACK (AFRO-AMERICAN)
the history of Negro historiography falls into two divisions before Woodson
and after Woodson." ("A New Interpretation for Negro History,"
The Journal of Negro History [January, 1937], p. 21.
The above statement by Lawrence Reddick amply describes Dr. Carter G. Woodson's role in the development of the modern study of Black History. Dr. Woodson believed that the heritage of Blacks, starting with the early great civilizations of Africa would inspire improved race relations. In 1915, Dr. Woodson established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History which published the Journal of Negro History and in 1926, Dr. Woodson introduced Negro History Week. He selected the week which included Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln's birthdays. The purpose of Negro History Week was to recognize the heritage of accomplishments of Black Americans.
Negro History Week was not the first event Black America used to commemorate our heritage.
Dr. Suggs of Howard University states, "the forerunner to Black History Month was the Emancipation Proclamation commemoration which began in 1864." It continued to be the more popularly commemorated event even after the formation of Negro History Week in 1926. Dr. Suggs stated that Negro History Week did not really take off until after World War II.
John Hope Franklin in From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans points out other commemorative events which preceded Negro History Week. The first was Negro Health Week inaugurated by Booker T. Washington. The two others were the Spingarn Medal initiated in 1914 by the NAACP and the William E. Harmon Medal initiated in 1926. Both medals were issued to Blacks excelling in their chosen professional areas.
So, when Dr. Carter G. Woodson conceived "Negro History Week" ,as a period in which the contributions of the Negro to the development of civilization would be sufficiently emphasized ' to impress Blacks as well whites, it was not the first commemorative salute to Black achievements. But it was the most widely supported and combined with Woodson's efforts with the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, Negro History Week withstood the test of time.
The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History is now known as the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History.
In the 1960's, by consensus of the Black community, Black History Week was born and became a month-long memorium.
In 1975, Senator John Warner of Virginia (then chairperson of the Bicentennial Celebration), called on all agencies to do something special to recognize American's 200th birthday.
Mr. Picott, director of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, responded to Senator Warner's request by "expanding our time of celebration and name from Afro-American History Week to Afro-American History Month, which was met with wide support." The Association spearheaded the effort by providing an uniform theme for the month and sub-themes for each week.
Mr. Picott stated that the first presidential proclamation was issued in 1974. He stated that 46 of the 50 states issued proclamations this year.
For more information on National Black History Month, contact Mrs. Jenkins or Mr. Picott of the Association for the Study of Afro-American History at 202/667-2822.