Black History Month 2024: a pivotal century-long tradition

by Marzia Parmigiani
10 minutes read
Rastafarian colors and two women in profile standing next to the colors, there is an inscription and it says Black History Month 2024

As we embark on a month-long journey to reflect on our past, recognize the ongoing struggle for racial justice, and draw inspiration from the accomplishments of African Americans, it’s essential to remember the true purpose of Black History Month. This federally recognized celebration, nearly a century old, was established to honor the remarkable contributions of countless Black men and women to the advancement of human civilization, as articulated by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. In this article we’ll introduce Black History Month 2024: a pivotal century-long tradition.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

The Origins of Black History Month: a historical insight

In 2024, Black History Month commenced on February 1st and will conclude on March 1st, focusing on the theme “African Americans and the Arts.” But have you ever wondered about the inception of Black History Month? Let’s delve into the history of this annual observance in February, dedicated to highlighting the African diaspora’s role in shaping human history.

Black History Month 2024: the Inauguration of Black History Month

In 1915, Carter G. Woodson established the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). This momentous occasion coincided with the 50th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the United States and laid the groundwork for what we now recognize as Black History Month. Born in Virginia in 1875, Carter G. Woodson’s upbringing unfolded in a deeply racist society, shaped by the legacy of slavery. As a result, he and many others faced limited access to education and employment opportunities. Despite these challenges, Woodson pursued his education fervently, eventually earning a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University. Throughout his lifetime, he remained steadfast in his commitment to advancing the teaching of history in schools.

black history month shape face

The Genesis of “Negro History Week” and Carter G. Woodson, Pioneer of Black History

In 1926, Carter G. Woodson introduced the inaugural “Negro History Week” in the United States, marking a pivotal moment in celebrating African American history. This week-long observance featured historical reenactments, bringing crucial moments in Black history to life. Newspapers played an active role by publishing historical articles, while local businesses enthusiastically offered their sponsorship and participation in the festivities. Beyond historical events, the week also showcased artistic talents encompassing music, literature, and art.

Carter G. Woodson is rightfully acclaimed as the pioneer of Black History, owing to his tireless efforts. His work through the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) and other organizations played a pivotal role in the evolution of Black History Month. Today, the United States annually commemorates Black History Month throughout February to pay tribute to the enduring accomplishments and contributions of African Americans throughout history. Woodson’s contributions extended to organizing the very first photo exhibit dedicated to black history at the inaugural “Black Progress Exposition.” Additionally, with the support of colleagues and successful fundraising, the first scholarly journal focusing on African American history was established, now recognized as the Journal of African American History.

From the 1960s Onward: the evolution of Black History Month

In the late 1960s, driven by the civil rights movement and a growing recognition of black identity, Black History Week underwent a transformative shift and expanded into Black History Month across numerous college campuses in the United States. The pivotal moment came in 1976 when the President of the United States officially designated February as Black History Month, featuring a distinct theme each year.

The formal recognition of Black History Month

You might be curious about the choice of February; it aligns with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and the prominent social activist Frederick Douglass. The formal recognition of Black History Month took place under the administration of President Gerald Ford in 1976. President Ford emphasized the importance of honoring the often overlooked achievements of Black Americans across various domains throughout the nation’s history.

Following this recognition, subsequent presidents continued to acknowledge and endorse this month-long celebration until February 1986. In that pivotal year, the U.S. Congress officially designated February as National History Month for African Americans.

Since 1996, it has become the responsibility of presidents to issue annual statements commemorating this significant event, which has been celebrated nationwide ever since. Black History Month transcends mere celebration exclusive to African Americans or a commemoration of deceased black individuals. Its profound significance lies in its response to a historic misconception. At the turn of the 20th century, it was erroneously believed that no black individuals had made substantial contributions to human history, including American history.

Black History Month 2024: contemporary Black History Month

Black History Month serves as a significant occasion to pay tribute to the remarkable accomplishments of African American educators and visionaries, as well as to delve into and celebrate black culture, heritage, and achievements. A noteworthy figure we remember during this time is W.E.B. DuBois, a renowned intellectual, civil rights advocate, and pan-Africanist.

DuBois, a leader and co-founder of the NAACP in 1868, played a pivotal role in shaping the course of history. Another significant historical moment etched in February’s memory is the passage of the 15th Amendment in Congress on February 3, 1870. This landmark legislation marked the first time Black individuals were granted the right to vote, a momentous stride in the ongoing quest for civil rights. Beyond these pivotal milestones and notable figures, February presents us with additional events that invite reflection and celebration.

It offers an opportunity not only to explore black history but also to contemplate the broader tapestry of humanity. In essence, Black History Month provides a platform to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of Black Americans to the nation’s history and the broader fabric of society, encompassing cultural, academic, and political achievements.

Black History Month 2024: the imperative of historical reflection

Black History Month has evolved into a vital event, gaining increasing relevance in the face of contemporary developments in the United States. Despite past triumphs, such as the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling that deemed racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional and the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, granting former slaves the right to vote, recent statistics underscore the persistent discrimination faced by Black Americans.

Current data reveals disparities, including double the unemployment rate compared to white Americans and an incarceration rate five times higher. The multifaceted nature of these challenges is compounded by a series of discriminatory incidents that have transpired over the past decade.

These circumstances have given rise to social movements like Black Lives Matter, highlighting the pressing need for change. Additionally, there has been a growing recognition that black lives have historically been undervalued.

Over the years, Black History Month has evolved into one of the most cherished cultural heritage months on our calendar. However, as this tradition has gained widespread acceptance, it’s crucial to ensure that our efforts to commemorate it are respectful, accurate, and appropriate.

Today, schools, businesses, and organizations enthusiastically participate in Black History Month, offering a variety of exhibits, presentations, meals, and even games.

How to commemorate Black History Month 2024?

Regardless of the form of celebration, the purpose of Black History Month is to educate and celebrate Black history. This year’s theme, chosen annually by the ASALH since 1928, is “African Americans and the Arts.” There are various ways to observe this occasion:

  • 1. Attend events such as luncheons hosted by the ASALH.
  • 2. Engage in online programming offered by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which also provides a digital toolkit to celebrate Black artists’ contributions to social justice.
  • 3. Explore reading lists, online resources, or multimedia related to the year’s theme.
  • 4. Participate in in-person gatherings, festivals, or performances, taking note of event details specific to your location.

By embracing these avenues, we honor the legacy of Carter G. Woodson and the enduring contributions of African Americans to our shared history.

The Bottom line

As we reflect during Black History Month 2024, it is clear this annual tradition holds deep meaning and serves an vital educational purpose. While tremendous progress has been made since Carter G. Woodson established Negro History Week in 1926, disparities and discrimination still persist nearly a century later. Honoring the rich history and ongoing contributions of African Americans goes beyond mere celebration; it represents a commitment to truth, racial healing, and social justice. Our shared future depends on whether we heed the lessons of the past. Keep following us to discover travel guides, latest trends and everything about the new LCN App.

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