How Negro History Week Became Black History Month and Why It Matters Now

Photo: Allison C Bailey (Shutterstock)

By Veronica Chambers, The New York Times

Black History Month has been celebrated in the United States for close to 100 years. But what is it, exactly, and how did it begin?

In the years after Reconstruction, campaigning for the importance of Black history and doing the scholarly work of creating the canon was a cornerstone of civil rights work for leaders like Carter G. Woodson. Martha Jones, a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University and the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor, explained: “These are men [like Woodson] who were trained formally and credentialed in the ways that all intellectuals and thought leaders of the early 20th century were trained at Harvard and places like that. But in order to make the argument, in order to make the claim about Black genius, about Black excellence, you have to build the space in which to do that. There is no room.” This is how they built the room.

1895

On Feb. 20, Frederick Douglass, the most powerful civil rights advocate of his era, dies.

Douglass collapsed after attending a meeting with suffragists, including his friend Susan B. Anthony. A lifelong supporter of women’s rights, Douglass was among the 32 men who signed the Declaration of Sentiments at Seneca Falls, N.Y. He once said: “When I ran away from slavery, it was for myself; when I advocated emancipation, it was for my people. But when I stood up for the rights of woman, self was out of the question, and I found a little nobility in the act.”

Did you know?

Douglass was such an animated storyteller that, when he collapsed, his wife thought it was part of the story he was telling her about his day with the suffragists…

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