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February 1, 1980
On February 1, 1980, the Atlanta Daily World kicked off Black History Month with a profile of Carter G. Woodson. In 1915, Woodson helped found the Journal of Negro History and the Association for the Study of Negro Life, which later became the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH). Woodson continued to encourage the study of African-American history and culture, and in 1926 he guided the first Negro History Week, which became Black History Month in 1976. Over a half century after the first Negro History Week, the Daily World wanted to remind readers about the origins and motivations of this education effort. The newspaper quoted Woodson: “Not to know what one’s race has done in former times is to continue always a child...If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” (click to view PDF)
In looking back to the origins of Black History Month, I also found this selection of articles from 1926 and 1927 that highlight early efforts to support and promote this effort. These articles make it clear that Negro History Week grew from ambitious but humble origins. The Philadelphia Tribune, for example, encouraged readers to write directly to Woodson to request pamphlets and study materials on African-American history. The Baltimore Afro-American and Pittsburgh Courier reported on local efforts to celebrate African-American history, which makes it clear how many teachers, parents, citizens, and students were involved in making Negro History Week a reality.
“Negro History Week,” Philadelphia Tribune, February 6, 1926: “It is essential to the future growth of the Negro race that we become acquainted with our past...The proper observance of Negro History Week is, therefore, exceedingly important...Beginning today, February the seventh and continuing for one week the history of the Negro will be studied and discussed throughout the United States. Teachers, preachers, professional men, in fact every class is called upon to make special efforts to get better acquainted with the background of their race. Dr. Woodson and the association he heads will co-operate with those who desire to know more about their race. Write Dr. C.G. Woodson 1538 Ninth Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. The investment of a two cents stamp will be the best investment you ever made.” (click to view PDF)
“Negro History Week is Observed in Public Schools,” Baltimore Afro-American, February 20, 1926: Article reports on Negro History Week programs at two dozen local schools. (click to view PDF)
“National Negro History Week To Be Celebrated,” Carter G. Woodson, New York Amsterdam News, January 29, 1927: “Schools, churches, and social agencies will pause during this second week of February to invite attention to the long neglected record of the Negro...To invite attention to the romantic story of the Negro, there have been engaged throughout the country numerous teachers, ministers, professional men, and leaders of business who will participate in various exercises held throughout the week.” (click to view PDF)
“Negro History Week,” Pittsburgh Courier, January 29, 1927: “The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History is trying its very best to establish in the mind of the world the fact that the Negro has a history worthy of record. For years Dr. Carter G. Woodson has been devoting his entire time to a careful collection of authentic acts and deeds performed by Negroes. He has been collecting the lives of individuals, the happenings of communities and the changing habitats of the Negroes for the purpose of handing down to the future reading world some undeniable truths concerning this race of ours.” (click to view PDF)