In 1915, Dr. Carter G. Woodson and Rev. Jesse E. Moorland co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). Their goal was to research and bring awareness to the largely ignored, yet crucial role black people played in American and world history. The following year, Woodson published and distributed his findings in The Journal of Negro History. He founded the publication with the hope that it would dispel popular mistruths. He also hoped to educate black people about their cultural background and instill them with a sense of pride in their race.
The son of former slaves and the second black person to receive a degree from Harvard University, Carter Woodson understood the value of education. He also felt the importance of preserving one’s heritage and, upon his urgings, the fraternity Omega Psi Phi created Negro History and Literature Week in 1920. In 1926, Woodson changed the name to Negro History Week. He selected the month of February for the celebration as a way to honor of the birth of two men whose actions drastically altered the future of black Americans. Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. President who issued the Emancipation Proclamation was born on February 12th and Frederick Douglass, one of the nation’s leading abolitionists was born on February 14th.
Woodson and the ANSLH provided learning materials to teachers, black history clubs and the community at large. They also published photographs that depicted important figures in black culture, plays that dramatized black history, and reading materials.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson died in 1950, but his legacy continued on as the celebration of Negro History Week was adopted by cities and organizations across the country. This observance proved especially important during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, a time when the inhumane and unequal treatment of black people in America was being challenged and overturned.
The Black Power Movement of the 1970s emphasized racial pride and the significance of collective cultural values. This prompted the ASNLH, now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, to change Negro History Week to Black History Week. In 1976, they extended the week to a month-long observance.
Black History Month is now recognized and widely celebrated by the entire nation on both a scholarly and commercial level. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History continues to promote, preserve and research black history and culture year-round.