When Black History Month Was Only a Week

Woodson_Carter_GAs your official correspondent for everything that happened in 1926—the year that the events in Piper Houdini take place—I wanted to take a moment to discuss a breakthrough that occurred that year, which led to the birth of Black History Month.

Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) was an African-American historian who worked to preserve the history of African Americans and collected thousands of artifacts and publications. The son of former slaves, Woodson received a Ph.D. in history from Harvard and spent his entire adult life working to ensure that black history would be preserved and included in the study of U.S. history. He noted that African-American contributions “were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them.”

Woodson argued that the teaching of black history was essential to ensure the physical and intellectual survival of the race within broader society. “The American Indian left no continuous record, and where is he today?” he asked.

In 1926, Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History pioneered the celebration of “Negro History Week.” The precursor to Black History Month, Negro History Week fell during the second week of February because it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on the 12th and Frederick Douglass on the 14th.

The event was launched in 1926 to encourage the coordinated teaching of the history of American blacks in the nation’s public schools. The first Negro History Week was far from universally accepted, but Woodson regarded it as one of the most fortunate steps ever taken by the Association and planned to repeat the event annually.

By 1929, almost every state with a considerable African-American population had made Negro History Week known to that state’s teachers and distributed official literature associated with the event. Subsequently, Negro History Week was met with enthusiastic response; it prompted the creation of black history clubs, an increase in interest among teachers, and interest from progressive whites. Negro History Week grew in popularity throughout the following decades, with mayors across the United States endorsing it as a holiday. But it wasn’t until 50 years later that expansion of Negro History Week to Black History Month was officially recognized by the U.S. government.


Carter G. Woodson: The Father of Black History, Patricia C. McKissack, Fredrick L. McKissack, 1991


Posted on Monday, February 9, 2016

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