DEI: Understanding how Black History Month began

As a second grade teacher in Moorestown, I helped students observe Black History Month by reading a thrilling grade-level book about Harriet Tubman.  She was a slave on a Maryland plantation, who courageously walked alone for 90 miles to freedom in Philadelphia.  Along the way  Underground Railroad  “conductors” helped her evade capture.  Afterwards, she returned many times to rescue family members and seventy-plus other slaves.  Her story was captivating!

How did Black History Month begin so that my young students and I would learn about Harriet Tubman’s extraordinary life?

Also known as African-American Month, it began in the United States in 1976 and is now observed in Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, as well.  Each year has a theme designated by the Association for the Study of African Life and History (ASALH), and since its beginning, all American Presidents have issued proclamations endorsing the ASALD’s annual theme. This year’s theme is “African-Americans and the Arts” which highlights the impacts Black poets, writers, visual artists, musicians, and dancers have had on our culture. ALOT, yes?!

A little back history: In 1915 young, future historian Carter G. Woodson, son of former slaves who had recently earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University, traveled to Chicago with many other thousands of African Americans to observe the 50th Anniversary of Emancipation.  For three weeks inspiring exhibits promoted the progress African-Americans had made in those years.  He was so impressed that he established the ASALH to promote the scientific study of black culture, achievements, and history. In 1926 he announced Negro History Week and chose February for the focus of the national observance because Abraham Lincoln, who was born on February 12th, and Frederick Douglas, born on February 14th, had greatly shaped black history. ASALH grew nationwide.  Dr. Woodson didn’t want a week of observance, however, but promoted Negro History studies all year long in universities and schools. In the late 1960’s Black History Month replaced Negro History Week.  How our lives have been enriched by  Dr. Woodson’s vision!

Things To Do For Black History Month in Philadelphia in 2024

Visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. in person or online

-Sue Kuhn