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What is Black History Month? Why should we care?

February 9, 2022

By Cheryl Wright

“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”
― Carter G. Woodson

In 1926, the first Black History Month was called Negro History Week, 61 years after the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery.  The program was established to encourage the study of African American history and to focus attention on the contributions of African Americans to the United States.

Black History Month evolved into a month-long event in February to coincide with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and abolitionist Frederick Douglass (February 15).  February was proclaimed the official Black History Month by President Gerald Ford in 1976 and is observed in the United States, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

Carter G. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History,” was an African American historian and scholar who wanted to uncover and preserve the history of African Americans in the U.S.  He pioneered the celebration because he felt the history of African Americans was neglected.  He established the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH) in 1915 which still exists today.  Thanks to the pioneering work of Woodson and ASALH, Black History Month is not a token, but an especial tribute, a time of acknowledgment, reflection, and inspiration. It is an opportunity to learn and understand the achievements of African-Americans going beyond stories of racism, imprisonment, and slavery to celebrate those who have made an impact on the world with their activism.

The theme of Black History Month for 2022 is "Black Health and Wellness" in recognition of African Americans' contributions to improving health and wellness in the Black community.  President Ford, in his message on the observance of Black History Month, called upon the nations to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”  As a few examples for this year, Indiana’s Appellate Courts offer a Workplace Wellness for Prosecutors webinar.  Judge Wanda Jones of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court (Ohio) discusses her career.  The Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida recognizes Black History Month by highlighting several firsts of the legal profession.  The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana announced that Jimmie McMillian a local attorney will speak on "The Struggles that Made Us: The Journeys of African American Leaders from Personal Failure to Triumph," and will highlight lawyers, judges, and politicians who encountered failure on their paths to success.

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) joins in this celebration to honor the history and achievements of the Black community.

Let us know how you celebrate Black History Month at Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164. Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Vimeo.