Carter G. Woodson

Carter G. Woodson, 1875-1950, was one of the first scholars to study African-American history. In 1926, he announced the celebration of Negro History Week, the precursor to Black History Month.

Q: What is the history of Black History Month?

A: Black History Month started as a weeklong commemoration in 1926 called Negro History Week and was the brainchild of Carter G. Woodson, an African-American historian, UW-Madison professor Brenda Plummer said.

“The purpose was to make African-Americans and the public at large aware of the role that black people have played in the development of the U.S. and its institutions,” Plummer said.

Woodson chose the second week of February to commemorate black history since it coincided with the birthdays of former President Abraham Lincoln on Feb. 12 and black antislavery leader Frederick Douglass, Plummer said. Douglass did not know the exact date of his birth, but he chose to celebrate the day on Feb. 14, according to the Smithsonian Magazine.

The commemoration of black history was expanded to the entire month of February in 1976 when President Gerald Ford declared the observance of Black History Month on the 200th anniversary of American independence.

“We can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history,” Ford said.

Every U.S. president since has recognized Black History Month.

— Shelley K. Mesch

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Shelley K. Mesch is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She earned a degree in journalism from DePaul University.