By Ricki Walters, Regional Diversity Trainer/Investigator
African Americans have lived in the United States since colonial days, and participated fully in the country’s development, but they were not included in our history books until the 20th century. Dr. Carter Woodson, a Harvard scholar and son of former slaves, introduced Negro History Week on February 19, 1926. He chose the second week of February because the birthdays of Fredrick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln are observed then. These two men significantly influenced the lives of black Americans. His hope was that the many important contributions of African Americans would be recognized in our history books. He dedicated his life to this idea.
A number of other important historical events have also occurred in February. On 2/23/1868, W.E.B. DuBois, civil rights leader and cofounder of the NAACP, was born. On 2/3/1870, the 15th Amendment passed; granting blacks the right to vote, though it was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that a majority of African Americans in the South were registered to vote. On 2/25/1870, Hiram Revels, the first black U.S. Senator, took his oath of office. On 2/12/1909, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded. On 2/1/1960, four black students from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College began a sit in at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter that triggered other non-violent protests in the South. They were refused service because of their color. Six months later, they were served at the same lunch counter. And, on 2/21/1965, Malcolm X, who promoted Black Nationalism, was killed. African Americans continue to make important historical contributions to our country and to the world.
In 1976, as part of our bi-centennial celebration, Negro History Week was expanded into Black History Month. Today, Black History Month is celebrated in communities across the nation with programs and activities that recall and honor the history and accomplishments of African Americans.