President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting on African American History Month in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. From left are, Omarosa Manigault, Trump, Housing and Urban Development Secretary-designate Ben Carson, and Lynne Patton. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Black History Month has a history
February 15, 2017
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Like the presidents that came before him, President Donald Trump honored Black History Month. He has issued an official proclamation. The White House will host a gala and receptions. They are to celebrate the contributions of the United States' black citizens.
"I'm proud to honor this heritage," Trump said Jan. 31. He was surrounded by African-American supporters and government officials. They were invited to the White House. The president said he planned to honor the month "more and more."
Black History Month is one of the nation's oldest organized history celebrations. It has been recognized by presidents for decades. Proclamations are made. Celebrations are held.
Here is some information about the history of Black History Month.
Carter G. Woodson came up with the idea of the celebration. He was a founder of the Association for the Study of African American History. The celebration later became Black History Month. Woodson was the son of recently freed Virginia slaves. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in history from Harvard. The university is in Boston. Woodson liked the idea of Negro History Week. It was to encourage black Americans to become more interested in their own history and heritage. Woodson worried that black children were not being taught about their ancestors' achievements. This was in the early 1900s.
"If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world. And it stands in danger of being exterminated," Woodson said.
Woodson chose February for Negro History Week. That is because it had the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Lincoln was born on Feb. 12. Douglass was a former slave. He became a well-known advocate for equality and justice. But he did not know his exact birthday. So he celebrated his on Feb. 14.
Daryl Michael Scott is a Howard University history professor. Howard University is in Washington, D.C. Scott said Woodson chose that week because black Americans were already celebrating Lincoln's and Douglass's birthdays. Woodson's idea was endorsed by black newspapers. He promoted that week as a time to focus on African-American history. It would be a part of the celebrations that were already ongoing.
The first Negro History Week was announced in February 1926.
"This was a community effort spearheaded by Woodson that built on tradition. And built on black institutional life and structures to create a new celebration that was a week long. And it took off like a rocket," Scott said.
Negro History Week was wildly successful. But Woodson felt it needed more.
Woodson's original idea for Negro History Week was for it to be a time for student showcases of the African-American history. It would focus on what they learned the rest of the year. It was not to be the only week black history would be discussed, Scott said. Woodson later thought of starting a Negro History Year. He believed that during a school year, "a subject that receives attention one week out of 36 will not mean much to anyone."
Several places expanded the celebration on their own. West Virginia did it in the 1940s. The city of Chicago did it in the 1960s. They called it Negro History Month. The year 1976 marked the 50th anniversary of the beginning of Negro History Week. It was then that the Association for the Study of African American History made the shift to Black History Month.
Every president since Gerald R. Ford has issued a statement honoring the spirit of Black History Month.
Ford first honored Black History Week in 1975. He called the recognition "most appropriate." He noted that the country had developed "a healthy awareness on the part of all of us of achievements that have too long been obscured and unsung." The next year, in 1976, Ford issued the first Black History Month commemoration. He said that with the celebration, "we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."
President Jimmy Carter added in 1978 that the celebration "provides for all Americans a chance to rejoice and express pride in a heritage that adds so much to our way of life." President Ronald Reagan said in 1981 that "understanding the history of black Americans is a key to understanding the strength of our nation."
President Trump issued a proclamation Feb. 2. It declared February as National African American History Month. The text named Katherine Johnson. She was a mathematician. She was one of three black women whose roles in the space race were featured in the recent film "Hidden Figures."
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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why does Black History Month have a history?
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