History Stories

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 effort to create the commemoration began in 1915, half a century after the 13th 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 that 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 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 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month and endorsed an annual theme, some recent examples being Black Women in American Culture and History, Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories and Civil Rights in America. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history.

From the Tuskegee Airmen to Freedom Summer, look back on the history of African American achievements in this week’s featured collection, Celebrate Black History. Here’s a look at some of the episodes from this week:

  • The Tuskegee Airmen, an all-black fighter squadron, shatters racist stereotypes as it takes down enemies over Northern Italy, Czechoslovakia, and Berlin.
  • In 1964, national attention turned to Mississippi when three Civil Rights workers were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. Explore this watershed moment that eventually led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Freedom Summer.
  • In America’s Black Warriors, exclusive interviews with some of the U.S. military’s first black soldiers, sailors and airmen reveal how selflessly they fought against both systemic racism and foreign enemies.

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