The History Behind Black History Month
Black History Month has been celebrated in February since 1926 when Harvard scholar Carter G. Woodson attempted to make "the world see the Negro as a participant rather than as a lay figure in history."
But why devote February to Black History Month? The answer lies in our nation’s rich past. The month coincides with two men who had a great deal to do with freedom for the United States' African-American population, Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1909) and Frederick Douglass (February 14, 1818). Woodson’s vision was reinforced by the historical events pertinent to African-Americans that unfolded in February both before and after 1926.
On February 1, 1865, Abraham Lincoln approved the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery. Five years later, on February 3, 1870, the approval of the 15th Amendment extended the right to vote to people of all races. February is also when we celebrate the anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott (February 22, 1956), and mourn Malcolm X’s assassination (February 21, 1965).
African-American history is fundamental to the American fabric, which is why we celebrate it this month and throughout the year at the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum.
We encourage you to check out our permanent exhibit, “Freedom For All?” which pays particular attention to African-American history. The exhibit shows how six groups used the five freedoms of the First Amendment to lay claim to the liberties promised in our founding documents. Sojourner Truth’s use of religious tenets to convince President Lincoln and others that slavery was a moral wrong punctuates our abolition kiosk, and Barbara Johns, a sixteen-year-old high school student in Farmsville, Virginia, led a student strike at her segregated school and ultimately found her case merged with four others in what would become the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The “separate facilities are inherently unequal” decision was the linchpin of the Civil Rights Movement and is featured on a kiosk devoted to this defining moment in American history.
Lastly, we invite you to participate in our upcoming February programs focused on African-American themes, such as a discussion on Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, founder of Chicago. Check out the “What’s Happening?” section of this newsletter to learn more.