Who Founded Black History Month?
The founder of Black History Month is African-American scholar Carter G. Woodson. “The story of Woodson's life and the founding of what was originally called Negro History Week is unfamiliar to blacks and whites alike", according to Ramon Price, chief curator of the DuSable Museum of African-American History in Chicago, where the celebration was inaugurated in 1926.
"I hear a lot of African American young people say things like, 'How come they gave us the shortest month of the year?' And I tell them that nobody gave anybody anything. Carter G. Woodson chose February because it includes the birthdays of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln," Price said.
Born in West Virginia in 1875, Carter Godwin Woodson seemed filled with purpose from a young age. His parents were former slaves and instilled in him the value of education—something that would inspire his life's work. The oldest of nine children, Woodson worked to help support his family, educating himself until, at age 20, he was able to enter high school, finishing in just two years. He went on to earn a degree in literature from Berea College, again finishing in two years. He was the second African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard University, Woodson's being in history.
Throughout the years, Woodson's commitment to education grew. As a teacher, principal and supervisor of schools, he saw that the history of African Americans was neglected—even absent—in curriculum. Determined to change this, Woodson committed himself to the study of the African American experience.
In perhaps his most significant effort to improve the quality of education, Woodson established Negro History Week, which evolved into Black History Month following the Black Consciousness Movement of the 1960s. Woodson sought to help African Americans rediscover a history, which had been intentionally buried by white mainstream culture. His hope was to reinvigorate the self-esteem, sense of power and hunger for justice of a long-oppressed people. Woodson wrote in The Mis-Education of the Negro: "No systematic effort toward change has been possible, for, taught the same economics, history, philosophy, literature and religion ... the Negro's mind has been brought under the control of this oppressor. ... When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions."
A second goal in developing Negro History Week was to foster understanding between the races. Woodson believed that if whites learned of blacks' contributions to American history and humanity, this awareness would engender respect.”
For more about Carter G. Woodson read the full article at https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/the-history-behind-black-history-month
Suggested Resources for Black History Month
We recommend reading to your children or encouraging them to read the following literature to gain a better understanding around identity, diversity, justice and action.
Suggested reading TK-2 Grade
- Skin Again by bell hooks. The book emphasizes that our skin is one part of our identity, but it can’t tell our whole story.
- Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson, which tells the true story of the 1963 Children’s March to end segregation. The book speaks to the power young people have to fight injustice and create positive change.
Suggested reading for 3rd-5th Grade
- Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester, asks students to consider the ways in which race does and does not define our stories and our identities.
- Granddaddy’s Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein, which tells the true story of one family’s struggle for voting rights in the south.
Suggested reading 6th-12th Grade
- Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes, edited by David Roessel, we recommend: “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” or “I, Too”
- The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, a beautifully illustrated poem that weaves through the triumphs and struggles of Black history in America. It contains many references to famous leaders and works, which are referenced in the back of the book.