Woodson was studying history at Harvard University. He saw that black people were not well represented in history books. Black history was also not discussed in his classes. According to the way many historians taught the nation’s past, African Americans were barely part of the story.
Woodson knew this was not true. So in 1915, he and Jesse E. Moorland, a black minister and community leader, founded what would become the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. The organization would promote studying black history and celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans.
In 1926, the ASALH launched a black history week to bring attention to their mission and help schools organize lessons on the topic. Woodson chose the second week in February. That week held two very important dates: Frederick Douglass’ birthday on February 14 and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12. Douglass was a famous African-American writer, speaker, and anti-slavery activist. Both were major figures in black history, and particularly in the fight against slavery.
By the mid-1960s, the most popular textbook for eighth-grade U.S. history classes mentioned only two black people in the entire 100 years since the Civil War. This problem could no longer be ignored. It was in that decade that colleges and universities across the country transformed the week into a Black History Month on campus.
President Gerald Ford decreed Black History Month a national observance in 1976.
“In celebrating Black History Month,” Ford said in his message, “we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Now, Black History Month is celebrated in February in schools and communities all over the country.