Ever Wonder Why February is Black History Month?

Today is Feb. 28, 2010. It is the last day of the month in the shortest month of the year. This is the month Black History is celebrated throughout the United States. Each year the question is asked, why February?

The short answer: Historian Carter G. Woodson, one of the founders of the Association of Negro Life and History (ANLH), selected the week that contains the birth dates of two people who played a prominent role in shaping black history: Abraham Lincoln, Feb. 12, and Frederick Douglass, Feb. 14. Lincoln (1809-1865), a white man and the 16th president of the United States, signed the Emancipation Proclamation to free black slaves in some states. Douglass (1817-1895), a black man, was an orator, journalist and anti-slavery leader of the 19th century.

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Black History Month was first called Negro History Week. The first celebration was held in February 1926. Fifty years later, as part of the national Bicentennial celebration, the ANLH, now renamed The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), voted to extend Negro History Week to a month and to rename it Black History Month.

The expanded answer explains Carter G. Woodson’s (1875-1950) commitment to tell the story of his people, the black race. His dedication to documenting and publicizing the achievements of black people earned him the title “Father of Black History.”

According to the ASALH, Woodson earned a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University in 1912 and later taught at Howard University. He was intensely concerned that the value of the achievements of black people was not being presented to students or the public. In 1916, Woodson established a scholarly publication, the Journal of Negro History.

An honorary member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Woodson joined the organization’s national program that originated the celebration of Negro History and Literature Week in 1921. In 1926, Woodson personally began directing the celebration, changed the name to Negro History Week and changed the time from April to February.

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