On This Day In TCXPI History – We Must Never Forget! February 7, 1926 - Black History Week

 
 
February 7, 1926 The First Day of Negro History Week, originated by Historian Carter G. Woodson.

Woodson chose the second week of February because it marked the birthdays of former President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The week was later expanded and renamed Black History Month to celebrate important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. It is celebrated annually in February in the United States and Canada and in October in the United Kingdom.

As early as 1920, Woodson urged black civic organizations to promote the achievements that researchers were uncovering.  A graduate member of Omega Psi Phi, he urged his fraternity brothers to take up the work. In 1924, they responded with the creation of Negro History and Literature Week, which they renamed Negro Achievement Week.  Their outreach was significant, but Woodson desired greater impact.  As he told an audience of Hampton Institute students, “We are going back to that beautiful history and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements.” 

In 1925, he decided that the Association had to shoulder the responsibility.  Going forward it would both create and popularize knowledge about the black past. He sent out a press release announcing Negro History Week in February, 1926.

Woodson chose February for reasons of tradition and reform.  It is commonly said that Woodson selected February to encompass the birthdays of two great Americans who played a prominent role in shaping black history, namely Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, whose birthdays are the 12th and the 14th, respectively. More importantly, he chose them for reasons of tradition.  Since Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, the black community, along with other Republicans, had been celebrating the fallen President’s birthday. And since the late 1890s, black communities across the country had been celebrating Douglass’.

Well aware of the pre-existing celebrations, Woodson built Negro History Week around traditional days of commemorating the black past.  He was asking the public to extend their study of black history, not to create a new tradition.  In doing so, he increased his chances for success.
Yet Woodson was up to something more than building on tradition. Without saying so, he aimed to reform it from the study of two great men to a great race.


Though he admired both men, Woodson had never been fond of the celebrations held in their honor. He railed against the “ignorant spellbinders” who addressed large, convivial gatherings and displayed their lack of knowledge about the men and their contributions to history.  More importantly, Woodson believed that history was made by the people, not simply or primarily by great men.

He envisioned the study and celebration of the Negro as a race, not simply as the producers of a great man. And Lincoln, however great, had not freed the slaves—the Union Army, including hundreds of thousands of black soldiers and sailors, had done that. Rather than focusing on two men, the black community, he believed, should focus on the countless black men and women who had contributed to the advance of human civilization.
Source: http://www.asalh.org/blackhistorymonthorigins.html