Who Started Black History Month?

Harvard-educated historian and author, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, is credited with creating Black History Month. He was inspired after attending a 50th anniversary celebration of the 13th Amendment where various exhibits portrayed events in African American culture. With a mission to amplify Black people’s contributions and achievements, Woodson went on to create what is now known as the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH). In 1926, Woodson and ASALH declared the second week of February—which aligned with Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays—to be “Negro History Week.”

During the next 50 years, communities, schools and organizations started participating in the week-long recognition of African American trials and successes. As public interest grew, particularly during the 1960s civil rights movement, the celebration expanded from a week to a month. In 1976, President Gerald Ford declared February to be “Black History Month,” and congress passed a law in 1986 solidifying it as such.

  • In 1864, Rebecca Lee Crumpler graduated from the New England Female Medical College as the first Black woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S.
  • William Tucker, son of indentured servants from Great Britain, was the first recorded African child to be born in the colonies in 1624.
  • Vermont was the first colony to ban slavery in 1777.
  • In the 1770s, a Quaker named Anthony Benezet created the first school for African American children.
  • William Wells Brown’s novel, Clotel; or The President’s Daughter, is the first written by an African American to be published in 1853.
  • Hattie McDaniel became the first Black person to win an Oscar for her supporting role in Gone With the Wind in 1940. Sidney Poitier was the first Black man to win, 24 years later, for his leading role in Lilies of the Field.
  • Nat King Cole was the first African American to host a TV show when The Nat King Cole Show debuted on NBC in 1956.
  • In 1973, Stevie Wonder was the first Black artist to win a Grammy for Album of the Year for Innervisions.
  • The theme song to public television’s popular children’s program, Reading Rainbow, is sung by Chaka Kahn.
  • Gabby Douglas became the first Black gymnast to win the Individual All Around in the 2012 London Olympics.

White Anti-Racist Activist

  • Virginia Foster Durr (1903-1999) was a housewife and political activist from Birmingham, Alabama, who fought against the poll tax and southern white male domination.
  • J. Waties Waring (1880-1968) was a federal judge from Charleston, South Carolina, who opened white primaries to Black voters.
  • Anne McCarty Braden (born 1924) is a journalist and community organizer from Louisville, Kentucky, who defied racist real estate practices and the House Un-American Activities Committee and organized white southerners to support the civil rights movement.
  • Herbert R. Kohl (born 1937) is a writer and educator from New York City who authored 36 Children and twenty-five other books about education and civil rights.

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