Black History Month
Also calledAfrican-American History Month
Observed byUnited States, Canada,[1] United Kingdom[2]
SignificanceCelebration of the African diaspora including, African-American history
  • February (US and Canada)
  • October (Europe)

Black History Month is an annual observance originating in the United States, where it is also known as African-American History Month. It has received official recognition from governments in the United States and Canada, and more recently has been observed in Ireland and the United Kingdom. It began as a way of remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. It is celebrated in February in the United States[4] and Canada,[5] while in Ireland, and the United Kingdom it is observed in October.[6][7]


Carter G. Woodson (1875–1950)
Carter G. Woodson (1875–1950)

Negro History Week (1926)

The precursor to Black History Month was created in 1926 in the United States, when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) announced the second week of February to be "Negro History Week".[8] This week was chosen because it coincided with the birthday of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and that of Frederick Douglass on February 14, both of which dates Black communities had celebrated together since the late 19th century.[8] For example, in January 1897, school teacher Mary Church Terrell persuaded the Washington, D.C. school board to set aside the afternoon of Douglass's birthday in February to teach about his life and work in the city's segregated public schools, and this became known as Douglass Day.[9] The thought process behind the week was never recorded, but scholars acknowledge two reasons for its birth: recognition and importance.[10] In 1915, Woodson had participated in the Lincoln Jubilee, a celebration of the 50-years since emancipation from slavery held in Bronzeville, Chicago. The summer-long Jubilee drew attendance from across the county, with thousands of attendees to see exhibitions of heritage and culture, impressing Woodson with the need to draw organized focus to the history of black people, and he led the founding of the ASNLH that fall.[9]

Early in the event's history, African-American newspapers lent crucial support.[11] From the event's initial phase, primary emphasis was placed on encouraging the coordinated teaching of the history of Black Americans in the nation's public schools. The first Negro History Week was met with a lukewarm response, gaining the cooperation of the departments of education of the states of North Carolina, Delaware, and West Virginia as well as the city school administrations of Baltimore, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.[12] Despite this far-from-universal observance, the event was regarded by Woodson as "one of the most fortunate steps ever taken by the Association", and plans for a repeat of the event on an annual basis continued apace.[12]

At the time of Negro History Week's launch, Woodson contended that the teaching of Black History was essential to ensure the physical and intellectual survival of Blacks within broader society:

If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. The American Indian left no continuous record. He did not appreciate the value of tradition; and where is he today? The Hebrew keenly appreciated the value of tradition, as is attested by the Bible itself. In spite of worldwide persecution, therefore, he is a great factor in our civilization.[13]

By 1929, The Journal of Negro History was able to note that with only two exceptions, officials with the state departments of education of "every state with considerable Negro population" had made the event known to that state's teachers and distributed official literature associated with the event.[14] Churches also played a significant role in the distribution of literature in association with Negro History Week during this initial interval, with the mainstream and Black press aiding in the publicity effort.[15]

Throughout the 1930s, Negro History Week countered the growing myth of the South's "lost cause", as epitomized in both the novel and the film Gone with the Wind. That myth argued that enslaved people had been well-treated, that the Civil War was a war of "northern aggression", and that Black people had been better off under slavery. "When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions", Woodson wrote in his book The Miseducation of the American Negro, "you do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his 'proper place' and will stay in it."[16]

Negro History Week grew in popularity throughout the following decades, with mayors across the United States endorsing it as a holiday.[8]

United States: Black History Month (1970)

The Black United Students first Black culture center (Kuumba House), where many events of the first Black History Month celebration took place
The Black United Students first Black culture center (Kuumba House), where many events of the first Black History Month celebration took place

Black educators and Black United Students at Kent State University first proposed Black History Month in February 1969. The first celebration of Black History Month took place at Kent State a year later, from January 2 to February 28, 1970.[4]

Six years later, Black History Month was being celebrated all across the country in educational institutions, centers of Black culture, and community centers, both great and small, when President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month in 1976, during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial. He urged Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history".[17]

In the Black community, Black History Month was met with enthusiastic response; it prompted the creation of Black history clubs, an increase in interest among teachers, and interest from progressive whites.[8]

On February 18, 2016, 106-year Washington, D.C., resident and school volunteer Virginia McLaurin visited the White House as part of Black History Month. When asked by President Barack Obama why she was there, McLaurin said: "A Black president. A Black wife. And I'm here to celebrate Black history. That's what I'm here for."[18][19]

United Kingdom (1987)

1822 handbill advertising a Black boxing tutor in Alnwick, Northumberland; tweeted by Northumberland Archives as part of Black History Month in 2020[20]
1822 handbill advertising a Black boxing tutor in Alnwick, Northumberland; tweeted by Northumberland Archives as part of Black History Month in 2020[20]

In the United Kingdom, Black History Month was first celebrated in October 1987[21] (which year was also coincidentally the 150th anniversary of Caribbean emancipation, the centenary of the birth of Marcus Garvey and the 25th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity, an institution dedicated to advancing the progress of African states).[22] Black History Month in the UK was organised through the leadership of Ghanaian analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, who had served as a coordinator of special projects for the Greater London Council (GLC) and created a collaboration to get it underway.[23][24]

In the UK, Black History Month was first celebrated in London in 1987, as part of African Jubilee Year, when on October 1, Dr Maulana Karenga from the US was invited to an event at County Hall to mark the contributions of Black people throughout history, and Addai-Sebo drew up a plan to recognise the contributions of African, Asian and Caribbean people to the economic, cultural and political life in the UK, with other boroughs beginning formally to institute October as Black History Month in the UK.[25]

Black History Month UK does not support the use of the term "black" to refer to all people of colour in the UK (see: Political blackness), and has criticised institutions for supporting Black History Month with images of people from British Asian backgrounds.[26]

Germany (1990)

In Berlin in 1990, members of the Black German community began observing Black History Month, and these celebrations spread to other German cities. Programs have included discussions of black Europeans, international African perspectives, the history of civil rights in the U.S., and apartheid in South Africa.[27]

Canada (1995)

In 1995, after a motion by politician Jean Augustine, representing the riding of Etobicoke—Lakeshore in Ontario, Canada's House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month (French: Mois de l'histoire des Noirs) and honored Black Canadians.[28] In 2008, Senator Donald Oliver moved to have the Senate officially recognize Black History Month, which was unanimously approved.[5]

Currently, Canada defines the festivity as an opportunity to celebrate "the achievements and contributions of Black Canadians and their communities who … have done so much to take make Canada a culturally diverse, compassionate, and prosperous country".

Republic of Ireland (2010)

Ireland's Great Hunger Institute, at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, notes: "Black History Month Ireland was initiated in Cork in 2010. This location seems particularly appropriate as, in the 19th century, the city was a leading center of abolition, and the male and female anti-slavery societies welcomed several black abolitionists to lecture there, including Charles Lenox Remond and Frederick Douglass."[29]

France (2018)

In France a Black History Month was first organized in 2018 in Bordeaux.[30] Since 2022 the cities of Paris, Le Havre, Guadeloupe, La Rochelle and Bayonne are participating as well. In 2022 the month was dediated to Josephine Baker, a dancer and member of the French Resistance during World War II born in the United States.[31]

Africa (2020)

In 2020 Black History Month was celebrated in seven African countries for the first time. Participating countries were Benin, Burkina Faso, Tschad, Ivory Coast, Comores, Senegal and Cameroon. The event was initiated by the organisation Africa Mondo founded by Mélina Seymour. From 2021 onwards an African History Month was celebrated in March.[32]


When first established, Black History Month resulted in some controversy.[33] Those who believed that Black History Month was limited to educational institutions questioned whether it was appropriate to confine the celebration of Black history to one month, as opposed to the integration of black history into mainstream education for the whole of the year. Another concern was that contrary to the original inspiration for Black History Month, which was a desire to redress how American schools failed to represent Black historical figures as anything other than enslaved people or colonial subjects, Black History Month could reduce complex historical figures to overly simplified objects of "hero worship". Other critics refer to the celebration as a form of racism.[34] Actor and director Morgan Freeman and actress Stacey Dash have criticized the concept of declaring only one month as Black History Month.[35][36] Freeman noted, "I don't want a Black history month. Black history is American history."[37]

Since its inception, Black History Month has expanded beyond its initial acceptance in educational establishments. Carter Woodson's organization, now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), designates a theme each year: for example, "Black Health and Wellness" in 2022 focused on medical scholars, health care providers, and health outcomes.[38] In 2018, Instagram created its first-ever Black History Month program with the help of its then Head of Global Music & Youth Culture Communications, SHAVONE. Instagram's Black History Month program featured a series of first-time initiatives, including a #BlackGirlMagic partnership with Spotify and the launch of the #CelebrateBlackCreatives program, which reached more than 19 million followers.[39] By 2020, Black History Month had become a focus beyond schools. The Wall Street Journal describes it as "a time when the culture and contributions of African Americans take center stage" in a variety of cultural institutions, including theaters, libraries, and museums.[40] It has also garnered attention from the U.S. business community.[41] In February 2020 Forbes noted that "much of corporate America is commemorating" Black History Month including The Coca-Cola Company, Google, Target Corporation, Macy's, United Parcel Service and Under Armour.[42]


In the US, a theme for each Black History Month is selected by the ASALH:[43]

See also

Other history months

Heritage months



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  28. ^ canadien, Patrimoine (January 29, 2021). "Février est le Mois de l'histoire des Noirs".
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  39. ^ Long, Tia (February 27, 2019). "SHAVONE. Is Stepping Out of Tech and Into Her Own". PAPER MAGAZINE. Archived from the original on October 31, 2020. Retrieved February 1, 2021.
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Further reading