The Roots of Black History Month Are in Illinois
Carter G. Woodson (a Virginia native and the son of former slaves who relocated to Illinois) graduated from the University of Chicago in 1908 with a Master’s degree in History and completed his PhD in History at Harvard University in 1912. In 1915, he traveled to Washington, D.C., to celebrate and serve as an exhibitor for the 50th anniversary of emancipation.
Illinois helped sponsor the national celebration showcasing Black history and accomplishments. Inspired, Woodson returned to Chicago resolved to promote the study of Black life and history. Later that year, Woodson was among the founders of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History – now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (https://asalh.org/about-us/origins-of-black-history-month/) and The Journal of Negro History was published in 1916.
A member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Incorporated, Woodson leveraged his fraternity brothers’ networks, but Woodson and the ASALH wanted greater exposure and impact. The organization established Negro History Week in February 1926.
The choice of February was savvy, because the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass had been traditionally celebrated in the Black community. Rather than try to create a new tradition, Woodson sought to promote the study of Black history by encompassing Negro History Week in already established celebrations. Woodson also had a larger goal in mind; he would transform a celebration of singularly great figures into the celebration of the wider contributions and accomplishments of the Black community.
Although the celebration of Black History in the United States was officially expanded to a month-long concept in 1976, during the nation’s bicentennial, the path to expanding Black History Month is multifaceted and goes as far back as the 1940s. Black civic leaders in West Virginia, cultural activists in Chicago and young Blacks on college campuses were instrumental in the eventual expansion. Before his death in 1950, Woodson believed that Black history celebrations would eventually come to an end, envisioning an environment where Black accomplishments, history and studies would be an established facet of annual learning.
(This material, slightly edited, is taken from the website of the Illinois Realtor’s Association. (https://www.illinoisrealtors.org/). Illinois REALTORS® advocate for private property rights at the state Capitol in Springfield and in communities statewide. They stand for excellence in advocacy, education, and ethics for real estate practitioners.
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