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90 Years of Black History Celebrations

Honoring the contributions of African Americans

  • Corbis

    The Evolution of African American History Month

    En español | The annual tradition of paying tribute to black history in the United States began in the second week of February 1926 in Washington, D.C. Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom also hold their own commemorations. Here’s how it all started.

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  • Corbis

    Weeklong Commemoration

    Recognizing the accomplishments of African Americans began in 1926 with Negro History Week, a commemoration launched by historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.

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  • The Library of Virginia

    Focus on Public Education

    The weeklong effort was intended to encourage coordinated teaching of black history among public school systems. It enjoyed cooperation from education departments in North Carolina, Delaware and West Virginia, as well as the school administrations of Baltimore and Washington.

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  • Corbis

    Why February?

    Woodson chose the second week of February to coincide with and pay homage to the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (1809) and Frederick Douglass (1818).  He credited the two for bringing an end to slavery in America.

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  • Kent State University

    From a Week to a Month

    In 1969, the Black United Students at Kent State University in Ohio proposed expanding the celebration to a month. The university agreed to do so the following year.

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  • AP

    U.S. Makes It Official

    With support from President Gerald Ford (pictured here with First Lady Betty Ford and Medal of Freedom recipient, Jesse Owens), the federal government officially recognized Black History Month in conjunction with the 1976 U.S. bicentennial celebration.

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  • Robert Deutschman

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  • Alamy

    Presidential Proclamation

    Every successive president has followed Ford’s lead, including Barack Obama, who made history as the first African American president.

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  • National Film Board of Canada

    Canada Joins In

    Canadian railroad porters who traveled through the United States were the first to bring back the idea of celebrating black history. By 1950, unofficial observances began in Toronto. By 1979, the Ontario Black History Society petitioned the Toronto city government to proclaim February as Black History Month; the Parliament of Canada made it official in 1995.

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  • Alamy

    Celebrations in Europe

    The United Kingdom began celebrating Black History Month in 1987 to salute the contributions of Africa and African people. October was selected because of its importance to the African calendar, the equinox and harvest. London was the first British city to recognize the commemoration. The Initiative of Black People in Germany began celebrations in 1990.

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