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The contributions, achievements and sacrifices of Black Americans throughout U.S. history are something to celebrate.
Our current monthlong celebration of that rich legacy has its roots in Negro History Week, which historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland, founders of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, or ASALH), initiated in February of 1926. They chose the second week in February as a nod to the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Over time the celebration evolved, with President Gerald Ford officially recognizing February as Black History Month in 1976.
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Each year a theme is chosen for the month by the ASALH. This year, the theme is “Black Health and Wellness.”
During Black History Month there are many ways to pay homage and recognize triumphs while reflecting on what still needs to be done, says Rodney Coates, a professor at Miami University who teaches critical race theory and ethnic studies. Coates encourages people to recognize both national figures and local heroes who have made an impact within their communities.
But Coates says there is still room to do more. He wants Americans to truly embrace Black History Month the way many embrace other cultural holidays, such as St. Patrick’s Day.
“I think that part of the reason for celebrating this from the beginning, but even now, is to highlight this is not separate from the American experience,” he says.