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The Origins of Black History Month and Why We Celebrate It

The story of Black History Month begins in 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. The Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by Black Americans and other peoples of African descent.

In the following decades, mayors of cities nationwide began issuing yearly proclamations recognizing “Negro History Week.” By the late 1960s, thanks partly to the civil rights movement and a growing awareness of Black identity, “Negro History Week” had evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses.

President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Today, Black History Month is a time to honor the contributions and legacy of African Americans across U.S. history and society—from activists and civil rights pioneers to leaders in industry, politics, science, culture, and more.

Since 1976, every American president has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme. The Black History Month 2023 theme, “Black Resistance,” explores how “African Americans have resisted historical and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial programs, and police killings,” since the nation’s earliest days.

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