The beginning of Black History Month

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Charles Ashworth
  • 319th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
Every year about this time I start hearing the question: why do we have Black History Month? Everyone may not realize the struggles our African American brothers and sisters have gone through. Others may ask the question out of hatred or jealousy. February is the month designated to learn about and celebrate black history.

Americans have recognized black history annually since 1926, first as "Negro History Week" and later as "Black History Month." What you might not know is that black history had barely begun to be studied, or even documented, when the tradition originated. Although blacks have been in America since at least colonial times, it was not until the 20th century that they gained a respectable presence in the history books.

We owe the celebration of Black History Month, and more importantly, the study of black history, to Dr. Carter Woodson. Born to parents who were former slaves, he spent his childhood working in Kentucky coal mines and enrolled in high school at age 20. He graduated within two years and later went on to earn a doctorate from Harvard. The scholar was disturbed to find in his studies that history books largely ignored the black American population, and when blacks did figure into the picture, it was generally in ways that reflected the inferior social position they were assigned at the time.

Dr. Woodson, always one to act on his ambitions, decided to take on the challenge of writing black Americans into the nation's history. He established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now called the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History) in 1915, and a year later founded the widely respected Journal of Negro History. In 1926, he launched Negro History Week as an initiative to bring national attention to the contributions of black people throughout American history.

Dr. Woodson chose the second week of February for Negro History Week because it marks the birthdays of two men who greatly influenced the black American population, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. However, February has much more than Mr. Douglass and Lincoln to show for its significance in black American history.

On Feb. 23, 1868: W.E.B DuBois, important civil rights leader and co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was born. Feb. 3, 1870: The 15th Amendment was passed, granting blacks the right to vote. Feb. 25, 1870: The first black U.S. senator, Hiram Revels (1822-1901), took his oath of office. Feb. 12, 1909: The NAACP was founded by a group of concerned black and white citizens in New York. Feb. 1, 1960: In what would become a civil-rights movement milestone, a group of black Greensboro, N.C., college students began a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter. Feb. 21, 1965: Malcolm X, the militant leader who promoted Black Nationalism, was shot to death by three Black Muslims.

So now you have the answer the next time you hear the question "why do we have Black History Month?" Please use this month for personal education and development.