In the United States and Canada, February is Black History Month.
I remember in grade school doing some projects on Black history month, usually involving some sort of project or presentation on a notable figure in U.S. Black history. In college, there would often be lots of events hosted by NAACP chapters, Black student associations, traditionally Black sororities and fraternities, and more. But I never really knew how Black History Month started. I decided to do some digging, and the background is fascinating, and deserves more recognition than it's gotten. I mean, who doesn't want to know about the guy behind the month? The person who started the wave that lead to our society and nation having those long overdue and deserved celebration and recognition of our Black citizens' accomplishments?
The man to thank is Dr. Carter G Woodson.
Dr. Woodson was born in 1875, in New Canton, VA, the son of illiterate former slaves. During his childhood, education was erratic, but nonetheless, Woodson persisted and surrounded himself with education as much as he could. In between working in the coal mines in West Virginia, he took classes at Douglass High School. Eventually, he was able to enroll full time; he completed his high school degree in two years, after starting at the age of 20. He took a job as a teacher before his alma mater high school hired him to become the principal. Taking classes at Berea University in Kentucky, he achieved his Bachelor's degree in Literature.
Woodson then moved to the Philippines to become a school supervisor. (How badass is that?) When he came back to the United States, he attended the University of Chicago where he got a second Bachelor's degree and then a Master's. In 1912, he became the second African American to get his PhD from Harvard University.
Three years later, after noticing that historians and other colleagues in his field were leaving out or misrepresenting the role African and Black Americans had in U.S. history. He and a handful of other educated and passionate Black Americans created the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), which today is the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).
Fast forward to 1926, and the ASALH, with Woodson at the head, pioneered the first Black History Week, dedicated to be the second week of February in honor of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass (their birthdays fall during that time). The idea became popular very quickly, especially among educators of Black Americans.
Woodson's legacy continues.
In 1970, students and educators at Kent State University expanded a week to Black History Month. Six years later, President Ford would establish a nationwide observance of Black History Month to be established for every February.
Woodson's mission in life, to make sure Black history was being written and preserved correctly, and to encourage and educate Black Americans in their own history, was achieved. Black History Month may have started after Woodson's death, but it's because of his vigor, belief and hard work that created the waves we feel today.