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A look into the history of Black History Month


As February comes to an end, the celebration of Black History Month (BHM) begins to fade in the eyes of corporate America, but as a nation, it is our responsibility to continue the discussions of the victories and the tribulations of Black Americans throughout our nation’s history. 

When recognizing greatness within a community that makes up 13% of the United States population, adequately describing the accomplishments of each individual who has made their own impact on history in a single article is inherently impossible. What is possible, however, is educating and spreading awareness on the origins of BHM, and in turn, the scholar who started it all. 

Carter Godwin Woodson was a Black American man who was born to two former slaves by the names of Anne Eliza Riddle Woodson and James Henry Woodson in the town of New Canton, Va., on Dec. 19, 1875. Facing early obstacles, such as erratic schooling and struggling due to his parents’ illiteracy, Woodson began his journey teaching himself the common core curriculum of the time. Earning the ability to attend highschool at the age of 20, Woodson was recognized as a student who excelled, achieving his diploma in approximately 2 years and accepting a teaching position at Frederick Douglass High School soon after graduation. Woodson was then promoted to the position of principal in 1900. 

Choosing to continue his academic career, Woodson earned his bachelor’s degree in literature from Berea College and his master’s degree from the University of Chicago. In 1912 he became the second Black American after W.E.B. Du Bois to earn a doctoral degree in history  from Harvard University. 

During 1915, Woodson was the sole founder of the ​​Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) with his incentive stemming from his belief that “if a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” 

Woodson also found himself being a contributing writer for multiple publications during the time, with some including, The Journal of Negro History and Marcus Garvey’s weekly publication—the Negro World, where he wrote over 100+ articles relating to multiple topics pertaining to Black history and treatment. 

In 1920, Woodson founded his own publishing company known as “The Associated Publishers,” where he wrote and published more than 30 books prior to his death in 1950. 

Woodson also served as the dean of the college of liberal arts at Howard University, located in Washington D.C. from 1919 to 1920 and dean of West Virginia State College from 1920 to 1922, subsequently working as an independent scholar before taking initiative and mobilizing his college fraternity, Omega Psi Phi which devoted a week each April for a campaign that sought to study Black History and Literature, earning it the name Negro History and Literature Week, a movement that would soon lead to the introduction of Negro History Week, which laid the foundation for the Black History Month we know today and earning him the title of the “Father of Black History.” 

Negro History and Literature week first launched in Febuary, 1926, a week specifically chosen to coincide with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two historical figures who played a massive role in the progression of freedom and equality for Black Americans. expanding upon the already established “Douglass day” which was created in 1897 to teach students about the efforts and successes of Douglass. Its initial purpose focused heavily on expanding upon the study of African and Black American history, ensuring it became practiced and remembered each year. 

Twenty-six years after Woodson’s death, President Gerald Ford was the first to call for the recognition of February as Black History Month, with each president to follow declaring a formal proclamation in support, forever establishing Woodson’s legacy in U.S. history. 

Today, modern interpretations of the month differ, with some utilizing it as a call to action while others choose to use it as a moment of remembering and celebrating Black excellence. Nevertheless, Carter G. Woodson’s achievements are recognized today, making him one of the most impactful historical figures in educating current generations on a past that is full of injustice, inequality and mistreatment. 

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Stephen Gangi, Managing Editor
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