The History of Black History Month


Every year, during Black History Month, America celebrates the invaluable contributions that the African-American community has made to the culture and history of our nation.

Black History Month originally began as Negro History Month by historian, Carter G. Woodson, in 1929.  It is annually reserved by the U.S. and Canada in February and is observed in October in the United Kingdom.

Woodson’s purpose for creating the week was to educate Americans about the cultural backgrounds and reputable achievements of African-Americans. Every year, during Black History Month, America celebrates the invaluable contributions that the African-American community has made to the culture and history of our nation.

As early as 1920, Woodson urged black civic organizations to promote the achievements that researchers were uncovering.  A graduate member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, he urged his fraternity brothers to take up the work. In 1924, they responded with the creation of Negro History and Literature Week, which they renamed Negro Achievement Week.

Woodson chose February for reasons of tradition and reform.  It is commonly said that Woodson selected February to encompass the birthdays of two great Americans who played a prominent role in shaping black history, namely Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, whose birthdays are the 12th and the 14th, respectively.

Woodson built Negro History Week around traditional days of commemorating the black past.  He was asking the public to extend their study of black history, not to create a new tradition.

In the 1940s, efforts began slowly within the black community to expand the study of black history in the schools and black history celebrations before the public.  In the South, black teachers often taught Negro History as a supplement to United States history.

During the Civil Rights Movement in the South, the Freedom Schools incorporated black history into the curriculum to advance social change.  The Negro History movement was an intellectual insurgency that was part of every larger effort to transform race relations.

2012 Theme

The 2012 theme for National Black History Month is Black Women in American Culture and History.

From the American Revolution to the present, African American women have played a myriad of critical roles in the making of our nation. Their labor and leadership, their motherhood and patriotism, and their intellect and artistic expression have all enriched both the African American community and the nation at large. In slavery and freedom, their struggles have been at the heart of the human experience, and their triumphs over racism and sexism are a testimonial to our common human spirit.


Who is Carter G. Woodson

Born to parents who were former slaves, he spent his childhood working in the Kentucky coal mines and enrolled in high school at age twenty. He graduated within two years and later went on to earn a Ph.D. 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.

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.

In addition to founding Black History Month, Woodson is known for his internationally acclaimed book, The Mis-Education of the Negro.

28 Quotes for the 28 Days of Black History Month

  • Feb. 1: “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.” –Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of The Negro
  • Feb. 2: For I am my mother’s daughter, and the drums of Africa still beat in my heart.  ~Mary McLeod Bethune

  • Feb. 3: For Africa to me… is more than a glamorous fact.  It is a historical truth.  No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place.  ~Maya Angelou
  • Feb. 4: This being Black History Month, I would like to ask people to celebrate the similarities and not focus on the differences between people of color and not of color.  ~Lynn Swann
  • Feb. 5: I am America.  I am the part you won’t recognize.  But get used to me.  Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.  ~Muhammad Ali
  • Feb. 6: Freedom is never given; it is won.  ~A. Philip Randolph
  • Feb. 7: It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too black, which means it’s too strong.  What do you do?  You integrate it with cream, you make it weak.  But if you pour too much cream in it, you won’t even know you ever had coffee.  It used to be hot, it becomes cool.  It used to be strong, it becomes weak.  It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep.  ~Malcolm X
  • Feb. 8: In this country American means white.  Everybody else has to hyphenate.  ~Toni Morrison
  • Feb. 9: Be nice to whites, they need you to rediscover their humanity.  ~Desmond Tutu

  • Feb. 10: My father was a slave and my people died to build this country, and I’m going to stay right here and have a part of it, just like you.  And no fascist-minded people like you will drive me from it.  ~Paul Robeson
  • Feb. 11: When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person.  There was such a glory over everything.  ~Harriet Tubman, on her first escape from slavery, 1845
  • Feb. 12: I felt that one had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or rat in a trap.  I had already determined to sell my life as dearly as possible if attacked.  I felt if I could take one lyncher with me, this would even up the score a little bit.  ~Ida B. Wells
  • Feb. 13: As long as the colored man look to white folks to put the crown on what he say… as long as he looks to white folks for approval… then he ain’t never gonna find out who he is and what he’s about.  ~August Wilson, .Jr.

  • Feb. 14: We are the ones that we’ve been waiting for ~Barack Obama, 44th  US President
  • Feb. 15: I have no religion in the formal sense of the word …. I have no race except that which is forced upon me. I have no country except that to which I’m obliged to belong. I have no traditions. I’m free. I have only the future. ~Richard Wright
  • Feb. 16: When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world. ~George Washington Carver
  • Feb. 17: Revolution is a serious thing, the most serious thing about a revolutionary’s life. When one commits oneself to the struggle, it must be for a lifetime. ~Angela Davis
  • Feb. 18: “We, the people.”  It is a very eloquent beginning.  But when that document was completed on the seventeenth of September in 1787 I was not included in that “We, the people.”  I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, just left me out by mistake.  But through the process of amendment, interpretation and court decision I have finally been included in “We, the people.”  ~Barbara Jordan
  • Feb. 19: The battles that count aren’t the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself—the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us—that’s where it’s at.~ Jesse Owens, Blackthink (1970)
  • Feb. 20: I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear.~ Rosa Parks
  • Feb. 21: Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed. ~ Booker T. Washington
  • Feb. 22: When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.~Ralph Ellison
  • Feb. 23: The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely. ~Lorraine Hansberry
  • Feb. 24: Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly. ~Langston Hughes
  • Feb. 25: Mix a conviction with a man and something happens. ~Adam Clayton Powell
  • Feb. 26: I feel that the most important requirement in success is learning to overcome failure. You must learn to tolerate it, but never accept it. ~Reggie Jackson
  • Feb. 27: You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them. ~Michael Jordan
  • Feb. 28: Both tears and sweat are salty, but they render a different result. Tears will get you sympathy; sweat will get you change. ~Jesse Jackson


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