February is Black History Month. According to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) the theme for 2022 is Black Health and Wellness in honor of the legacy of Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, and other ways of knowing (birth workers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, and other health workers) throughout the African Diaspora. (ASALH, 2022)
Black History Month has been a celebration to honor the accomplishments of Black Americans since 1976. Before that time, the celebration was weeklong. Every president since 1976 has issued a proclamation honoring Black History Month. President Ronald Reagan in his proclamation in 1981 declared, “Understanding the history of Black Americans is a key to understanding the strength of our nation.” (Editors, 2022) President Barack Obama reiterates this notion in his address on February 18, 2016, when he said, “…black history has been American history. We’re the slaves who quarried the stone to build this White House; the soldiers who fought for our nation’s independence, who fought to hold this union together, who fought for freedom of others around the world. We’re the scientists and inventors who helped unleash American innovation. We stand on the shoulders not only of the giants in this room, but also countless, nameless heroes who marched for equality and justice for all of us.”
The idea for Black History Month originated with Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Woodson was born in 1875 in New Canton, Virginia. He spent time in his childhood as a sharecropper, miner, and various other jobs to help support his family. (Editors, 2022) He entered high school late but was able to graduate in two years. Woodson went on to complete a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Chicago. He became the second African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard. Woodson wanted to ensure that young African Americans were taught about their heritage. In February 1926 with the help of ASALH, Woodson issued a press release for the first ‘Negro History Week’.
February was chosen as the month for the event due to two events in the month that were already celebrated by African Americans. (Editors, 2022) Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is on February 12 and Frederick Douglass, a former slave, celebrated his birthday on February 14. In 1976 on the 50th anniversary of the first ‘Negro History Week’, the ASALH extended the week celebration into a monthlong celebration.
As we celebrate the lives of African Americans during Black History Month, let us remind ourselves of the African Americans who shaped our culture, fought for freedom, and those incredible entrepreneurs, such as Madam C.J. Walker, John H. Johnson, Berry Gordy, and others that paved the way for the modern successful African American businesswomen and men, such as Oprah Winfrey, Robert L. Johnson, Daymond John, Jay-Z and Janice Bryant Howroyd. We couldn’t imagine an America without their influence and contributions and will forever celebrate and honor them.