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“The Council for Diversity and Inclusion celebrates Black History Month because it is important to provide awareness and education to our students, faculty and staff,” says Dr. Charlotte Redden Hamilton, Chairperson of South University’s Council for Diversity and Inclusion. “It is a time to reflect on the history, achievements and contributions of Black/African Americans and their role in US history and at South University.”

In recognition of this month, South University has compiled this list to help you understand the story and motivation behind Black History Month (also known as African American History Month) as well as offer ideas for how you can celebrate Black History Month in 2021.

1. The roots of Black History Month date back to 1915 and Dr. Carter Woodson.

A renowned historian and author of 20+ books, Dr. Carter G. Woodson was committed to promoting the achievements of Black Americans. To this end, in 1915, Dr. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). In 1926, Dr. Woodson and ASALH launched a press release naming the second week of February Negro History Week to align with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. This announcement inspired many US communities and schools to organize celebrations, lectures, performances and clubs related to Black history.

The son of former slaves, Dr. Woodson held a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Chicago as well as a Ph.D. from Harvard (where he was only the second African American to receive a doctorate degree).

2. Black History Month was not recognized nationally until 1976.

Following the 1926 launch and ongoing promotion of Negro History Week, the week grew in popularity across the country, with numerous cities and schools endorsing it over the years. By the late 1960s, when discussions around civil rights and the Black experience had become more common, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses. By 1976, the month was widely celebrated and President Gerald Ford became the first president to officially recognize it. Since then, all Democrat and Republican presidents have issued proclamations endorsing the month.

3. Dr. Woodson hoped to make Black history a larger part of the educational curriculum.

According to the ASALH, Dr. Woodson’s dream was always to expand African American studies to be a larger part of the country’s education system than a week-long effort. His hope was that eventually the history of Black Americans would be incorporated seamlessly into the wider curriculum so that students would learn year-round about the life and contributions of all Americans in their classes. In addition to the books he authored, Dr. Woodson established a scholarly journal in 1916 and created the Negro History Bulletin in 1937 to help teachers with African American studies.

4. Each year, ASALH selects a theme for Black History Month.

The annual theme helps to focus the attention on a particular topic of relevance or interest.

For example, some recent past themes include Black Women in American Culture and History, Civil Rights in America, Sites of African American Memories, The Crisis in Black Education, and African Americans in Times of War. The 2020 theme was African Americans and the Vote. In 2021, the theme is Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity, with the goal of exploring how the Black family has “been reverenced, stereotyped, and vilified from the days of slavery to our own time”. To learn more about this theme, visit https://asalh.org/black-history-themes/.

5. Many Black History Month events are available virtually at no charge.

With the internet at our fingertips, we have so many resources available for educating ourselves about Black history throughout the entire year. This month in particular though, many organizations are holding special virtual events in honor of Black History Month. For example, the ASALH is hosting a Black History Month Virtual Festival with complimentary community events. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture also has a great list of online events for kids and adults with no admissions charges.

Interested in learning more about Black history and Black History Month? Explore this compilation of resources from the US National Archives.
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