An Introduction to Black History Month

Published February 1, 2022

Every February, the United States celebrates Black History Month. It’s a month that’s dedicated to honoring Black achievement, the Black journey, and the push towards full equality. But to really understand the importance of Black History Month, first we need to know how it all began.      

A Brief History of Black History Month

Black History Month actually started off as Black History Week. Carter G. Woodson, a prominent historian, collaborated with The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. And together, they began to study other marginalized groups. They noticed that the Jewish community was thriving and wondered if part of their success was due to the fact that they’d done such a great job documenting their history in The Bible. So, Carter set out to document Black history, as well.      

 He started by creating literature that honored the Black journey. And for one week in February, Carter and The Association decided to make a real effort to distribute that literature. They chose a week that coincided with the birthday of Frederick Douglas, a famous abolitionist, and Abraham Lincoln, the president who signed The Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves. And during that week, they gave their writing to public schools and churches, who then helped distribute it.   

 The movement gained steam, and by 1970, the Black students and teachers at Kent State celebrated Black History Week for an entire month. They encouraged others to do the same, and the observation of Black History Month started to quickly gain momentum. Then finally, in 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month on a national stage, and the rest is history. The movement has since gone global, spreading into Canada, The United Kingdom, and Ireland.             

Why Black History Month Is So Important 

Black History Month is important for several reasons. First, back in the 1930s, a troubling narrative was beginning to emerge. The myth was that the slaves had been treated well and that the Black community was actually better off under slavery. So, the Black history movement was an important part of setting the record straight and guarding against the return of slavery. Next, Black people have historically been marginalized in The United States, and continue to be so. A month where we honor Black achievement can help instill a sense of pride and belonging, and inspire the next generation of achievers.

Ways to Celebrate Black History Month

Black History Month is all about supporting the Black community. Below you’ll find lots of great ways to do exactly that.

  • Learn About Black Achievement – Have you read about Dorie Miller’s heroism during The Pearl Harbor Attack? Did you know about Lonnie Smith’s role in securing Black voting rights? Have you learned about Ralph Bunche’s Nobel Peace Prize? Here’s a great list of Black achievers—that many people don’t even know about—to help get you started. Who on the list inspires you? Share their story with your friends and family, and help put them in the spotlight!
  • Support Black Artists – Just like every other month, February finds you watching movies, listening to music, and reading books. So, why not pay special attention to Black artists this month? Whether you’re watching a movie from Jordan Peele or a show from Shonda Rhimes, revisiting the music of Miles Davis, or reading a poem by Langston Hughes, February is a great time to support Black creatives. And if you’re in the market for a great reading list of Black authors, see the link below.
  • Support Black-Owned Businesses – Similar to the above, you’re always grabbing lunch, getting haircuts, and shopping for a bit of this and that. So, this month, think about putting an extra emphasis on Black-owned businesses. Here’s a link to a Black business directory that’s great to have on hand as needs arise. And best of all, these businesses are all based in Indianapolis.
  • Donate Your Time or Talents to a Black Cause – Money can be tight. So, if you have some extra time or a special skill, don’t forget that donating either of those can be equally important. You might find that there’s a march, a rally, or an organization that has a need for your exact talents.
  • Talk to Your Kids About Race and Racism – You’re already aware of most of these issues, but are your kids? This can be a very difficult topic to bring up with children, and it can be difficult to know what they’re ready to hear and talk about. This article from PBS Kids gives some great pointers to start that conversation.
  •  Attend Events – Madam CJ Walker was the first self-made millionaire in The United States. And to honor her achievements, The Madame Walker Legacy Center still stands proudly in Indianapolis. Check out their website—they often have events and exhibits geared toward the whole family. You might also think about attending this free art show or free concert with the family, both of which honor Black culture.  

Black History Month is a great opportunity to honor the Black community. So, take a moment to teach your kids about this celebratory month and get them engaged. Maybe your weekly movie night will be dedicated to Black filmmakers for the month. Or how about reading and discussing a book by a Black author? Maybe you can even spotlight a new Black historical figure each night at dinner. But however you move forward, make sure to share this great tradition with your kids. Because that might be just the inspiration they need to join the next generation of achievers.