Updated: Apr 11
Black History Month celebrates African Americans' history, contributions, and achievements. Almost 100 years ago, Black History Month began as a weeklong event. It's now a month-long celebration that takes place every February.
Black history embraces the 400-year-long record of Black life in America. It also includes stories and activism against slavery and modern-day racism.
Here are 10 Black History Month facts you may not know.
1. Black History Month Began as Negro History Week
In 1926, Carter G. Woodson established Negro History Week. The celebration highlighted Black Americans' history, lives, and contributions. In 1976, Negro History Week expanded to the month-long celebration we observe today.
Woodson, an African American historian who graduated with a Ph.D. from Harvard, founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). The ASALH now leads nationwide Black History Month celebrations and establishes its themes.
2. Black Students Protested for Black History Month
In 1968, members of Black United Students (BUS) at Kent State University walked out, protesting disorderly conduct charges against students participating in sit-ins, according to ASALH. BUS's successful student activism helped establish three Black studies departments and institutes on campus.
In 1969, BUS students demanded that Kent State extend Negro History Week into a month of Black history celebrations. President Gerald Ford later affirmed the actions of BUS with the observance of Black History Month nationwide.
3. February Honors Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass
Black History Month happens in February for good reason. Woodson selected February in honor of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln's birth dates. Lincoln is well known for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation — declaring freedom for enslaved Americans held in the Confederacy.
Douglass escaped from American slavery in 1838. He became a renowned abolitionist, speaker, and writer. He wrote several books, including A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.
4. Black History Month Themes Change Yearly
Every year, ASALH selects an overarching theme for Black History Month. The very first Black History Month theme was Civilization: A World Achievement. The 2023 Black History Month theme is Black Resistance.
Black Resistance shines a light on historic and modern oppressions against African Americans. Advocating for equity has long been a form of resistance. Resisting acts of discrimination, injustices, and racism plays a critical role in African Americans' well-being.
5. Civil Rights Leaders Popularized Black History Month
Many civil rights leaders contributed to Black history and the celebration of Black History Month. Black activists like Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, John Lewis, Barbara Jordan, Marcus Garvey, and Martin Luther King Jr. brought national attention to Black struggles.
Freedom Schools, established during the Civil Rights Movement, highlighted Black history — working to eliminate oppression and uplift Black excellence. Like Black History Month, the schools honored and celebrated Black leaders. With the help of prominent civil rights activists, Black History Month celebrations grew in popularity.
6. Black History Month Honors Prominent Black Americans
Black History Month honors some of the most famous Black Americans. Many celebrations feature prominent African Americans like Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou, and George Washington Carver.
Black History Month is also a time to recognize Black Americans who contributed to impactful growth and change in the U.S. Black History Month celebrates the accomplishments of people like Onesimus — an enslaved African who brought vaccinations to America — and Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African American elected to the U.S. Senate.
7. National Organizations Sponsor Black History Month
Every February, organizations honor Black History Month with commemorative events. National Black History Month sponsors include:
The Smithsonian Institution
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The Library of Congress
The National Park Service
Organization-run events include community learning sessions, art gallery productions, and hosting prominent speakers.
8. Countries Worldwide Celebrate Black History Month
Dr. Jean Augustine is known as the Mother of Black History Month in Canada for establishing the celebrations in 1995. Just like in the U.S., celebrations occur in February.
Black History Month takes place in October throughout the Netherlands, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. While the U.K.'s initial focus was on Black American history, the country now focuses on celebrating Black British history.
9. HBCUs Promote Black History Year-Round
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were established to provide higher education opportunities to Black Americans. Established in 1837, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania was the very first HBCU. Today, over 100 HBCUs exist.
HBCUs, established before 1964, honor their mission to educate Black Americans. HBCUs teach Black history, recognize and honor Black American experiences, and uplift the rights of and needs within Black communities.
10. Black History Month Recognizes All African American Experiences
As of 2022, Black Americans account for 13.6% of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That's over 45 million different lived experiences across the country. Each African American experience is honored during Black History Month.
Black History Month celebrations often include gathering together to honor community leaders, family members, and stories that unite us.
Looking to the Future of Black History Month
Black History Month is a time to reflect on the past and use earlier lessons to imagine and work toward a better future. Black Americans continue to feel driven by the same societal issues that motivated Woodson a century ago.
Many African Americans look forward to a time when Black history is fully integrated into accounts of U.S. history. National acknowledgment, education, and celebration of Black history could change the need for Black History Month in the future.