African-American History Month started as a week-long celebration

  • Published
  • By Capt. Alysia Harvey
  • Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs
African-American History Month is observed in the United States each year during the month of February. It is meant to be a time of the year in which we recognize the progress, richness and diversity of African-American achievement. But do you know why February was chosen over the other 11 months of the year?

African-American History Month owes it origins to the writer and educator, Dr. Carter Woodson, and, to some degree, writer and civil rights activist Mary Church Terrell. Ms. Terrell began the practice of honoring Frederick Douglass' birthday in Washington.

Dr. Woodson, who sought to address the exclusion of African-Americans from history books and curriculum (they were only noted in chapters about slavery at that time), moved to Washington in 1909. Dr. Woodson witnessed the annual celebration begun by Ms. Terrell for 15 years and in 1926 chose the second week of February to be Negro History Week. He chose this week because it marked the birthdays of two men who had greatly influenced the black population: Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, as the nation reached its bicentennial, the week was expanded into an entire month.

Although this was Dr. Woodson's rationale at the time, February has much more than Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln to show for its significance in black history. For example:

· A group of black college students in Greensboro, N.C., began a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter Feb. 1, 1960; the event became a milestone in the Civil Rights Movement.

· The 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which granted blacks the right to vote, was passed Feb. 3, 1870.

· The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, commonly called the NAACP, was founded by a group of concerned Black, Jewish and White citizens in New York City Feb. 12, 1909.

· Malcolm X, who promoted Black Nationalism, was killed by three Black Muslims Feb. 21, 1965.

· W.E.B. Dubois, a civil rights leader and co-founder of the NAACP was born Feb. 23, 1868.

· The first black U.S. Senator, Hiram Rhodes Revels, took his oath of office Feb. 25, 1870.

· Of note, using a more recent example, Sunday marked the first time a black head football coach had previously played in the Super Bowl and the first time both Super Bowl teams were led by black head coaches.

Whether you're African-American or not, you are encouraged to not only learn something new about African-American history this month, but to also share that knowledge with someone else. After all, a candle loses nothing when it lights another candle.