Every year, the presiding US President declares the entire month of February to be Black History Month. Some people also call this observance National African American History Month. In this context, the terms “black” and “African American” describe the people of the United States that have at least some African ancestry. According to the US Census Bureau, more than 45 million citizens claim black or African American heritage, a little over 13% of the total population.
In 1926, black historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans organized Negro History Week to emphasize and honor black history in the United States. It was celebrated during the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and noted African American social reformer Frederick Douglass.
Dr. Woodson and others felt that raising consciousness about African American contributions was important because of the history of slavery and the prevailing persecution of the minority population in the US.
Since slavery was abolished in 1863, African Americans struggled economically and socially to be recognized as valuable members of American society. A great many people organized, demonstrated and fought over several decades for this recognition.
For a long time the country was segregated, meaning that white people and minorities were not allowed to share schools, restaurants or even public bus seats. The struggle against segregation culminated in violence and strife during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Ultimately, however, legal discrimination was banned, thanks largely to the efforts of courageous black activists such as Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In fact, Dr. King is perhaps the most well known and revered activist of the time. During a major Civil Rights Movement event in 1963, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, he gave a famous speech that is now considered a symbol of the movement and the times. It is called the “I Have a Dream” speech. In the speech, Dr. King called for an end to racism with emotional and poetic language.
Dr. King was assassinated in 1968 because of his leadership in the Civil Rights Movement. Now, there is an official federal holiday each year on the third Monday of January honoring his contributions to American life.
In 1976, Negro History Week was expanded to Black History Month as part of America’s Bicentennial celebration. In 1986, Black History Month was signed into law. Now, each year the President makes the proclamation that February is a month wherein the country celebrates and honors the contributions and culture of people of African descent throughout the nation.
Due to the Civil Rights Movement and the work of activists, there is more equality between races in the United States than ever before. Although today there are still struggles and conflicts, Black History Month (also called African American History Month) is set aside to remind people of the contributions of black Americans that benefit every citizen.
Events organized during Black History month include concerts, devotional ceremonies, showings of documentary films, art exhibits, poetry and literature readings, and school history classes dedicated to black history. Also special podcasts.
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