Black History Month, or National African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history. The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history.
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People and Groups
Get the facts about the origins of Black History Month, the creation of the NAACP and famous firsts in African American history.
In the 1950s and 1960s, civil rights activists in the United States used nonviolent protest, civil disobedience and legal action to end segregation and pursue equality for all Americans.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a minister and activist who led the U.S. civil rights movement from the 1950s until his 1968 assassination.
Slavery and its legacy have shaped American history, from the Civil War to Reconstruction in the 1860s and 1870s to the struggle over civil rights a century later.
Did You Know?
The NAACP was founded on February 12, 1909, the centennial anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln.
Origins of Black History Month
The story of Black History Month begins in 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. That September, 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. Known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the group sponsored a national Negro History week in 1926, choosing the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The event inspired schools and communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs and host performances and lectures.
In the decades the followed, mayors of cities across the country began issuing yearly proclamations recognizing Negro History Week. By the late 1960s, thanks in part 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 R. 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."
Since then, every American president has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme. The 2013 theme, At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington, marks the 150th and 50th anniversaries of two pivotal events in African-American history.
Key Events in African-American History
- Abolitionist Movement
- Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
- Black Codes
- Birmingham Church Bombing
- Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
- Civil Rights Act
- Civil Rights Movement
- Dred Scott Case
- Emancipation Proclamation
- Freedmen's Bureau
- Freedom Rides
- Freedom Summer
- Fifteenth Amendment
- Fugitive Slave Acts
- Greensboro Sit-In and the Sit-In Movement
- Integration of Central High School
- Integration of Ole Miss
- Montgomery Bus Boycott
- March on Washington
- Selma to Montgomery March
- Sharecropping and "Forty Acres and a Mule"
- Thirteenth Amendment
- Voting Rights Act
Famous African Americans
- African-American Leaders During Reconstruction
- African-American Soldiers in the Civil War
- Colin Powell
- Condoleezza Rice
- Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)
- Emmett Till
- Fannie Lou Hamer
- Frederick Douglass
- Harriet Tubman
- Jesse Jackson
- Malcolm X
- Martin Luther King Jr.
- Medgar Evars
- Nat Turner
- Rosa Parks
- Sally Hemmings
- Sojourner Truth
- Stokely Carmichael
- The 54th Massachusetts Infantry
- Thurgood Marshall
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Classroom Study Guides
Teacher's guide to the thousands of stories from individuals who lived during the civil rights era for the 1940s - 1960s.
Teacher's guide to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.
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