What Exactly Is Black History Month?

What Exactly Is Black History Month?

BET.com breaks down the roots of the celebration dedicated to the accomplishments of African-Americans.

Published January 31, 2012

It’s almost February 1, the beginning of Black History Month, but what exactly does that mean? BET.com breaks it down for you. 


What is Black History Month? 

Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by Black Americans and a time to recognize the central role of African-Americans in U.S. history.


When is Black History Month recognized?

Black History Month is recognized the entire month of February.


What is this year’s Black History Month “theme”? 

This year's theme is "Black Women in American Culture and History." The 2012 focus was created to specifically honor African-American women and the myriad roles they played in shaping the United States.


When did Black History Month begin?  

According to the Library of Congress, the story of Black History Month dates back to 1915, a half-century after the thirteenth amendment abolishing slavery in the United States was adopted. That year, Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting the achievements of people of African descent. Starting in 1926, the group chose the second week of February to sponsor a national Negro history week to celebrate the accomplishments of Blacks, and to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.


How long has the month been nationally recognized? 

In the early 1970s, “Negro History Week” was rechristened “Black History Week” to reflect the changing language used to describe African-Americans. Years later, starting in 1976, the celebration was expanded to a month and President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Since then, every U.S. president has officially designated the entire month of February as Black History Month. 


Is the U.S. the only country to observe Black History Month? 

No, countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history.


Is there a need to still celebrate Black History Month?

Over the years, and especially in a period of time that many right-wing Republicans are calling a “post-racial age of Obama,” critics argue there is no longer a need to dedicate an entire month to the accomplishments of Black Americans. The reality is, however, that despite the end of slavery, the contributions of Blacks are largely still not documented. Black History Month serves as an opportunity for schools and communities nationwide to organize and host lectures and presentations on the history of Blacks — information often left out of textbooks.


How can I learn more about history?

Through information provided by the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration and the Smithsonian Institution, a sampling of material related to African-American history is available online.


To find out more, visit here.


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(Photo: Steve Cicero / Getty Images)

Written by Danielle Wright


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