Negro History Week was established by Dr. Carter G Woodson and other Black leaders and scholars in February 1926. February 26, 1926 is an oft-reported day for its inaugural initiation (some references cite February 7 as the date). A week in February was selected to build upon the established traditions in the Black community of honoring President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, but Woodson never intended the week to be one that merely listed and highlighted individual great men. The annual observation was extended to one month in 1976 and became known as Black History Month.
Negro History Week proved to be a great success. It began during the height of the “New Negro” in the time of the Harlem Renaissance. In the early years, the celebrations were elaborate and included parades, banquets and formal programs. Woodson and the Association for the Study of African American Life (ASALH), provided study materials including, pictures, lesson plans, scripts for plays to be used by teachers and leaders. Unfortunately, it also provided an opportunity to commercialize the effort, which Dr. Woodson greatly disapproved of. He hoped that the week would spark interest in developing curricula that include Black America.
Woodson was concerned that the history that was taught in schools omitted information about Black Americans. He spent his life attempting to remedy this. Woodson wrote “We should emphasize no Negro History, but the Negro in history…What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice. There should be no indulgence in undue eulogy of the Negro. The case of the Negro is well taken care of when it is shown how he influenced the development of civilization.”
Woodson did not want Negro History to be an event-driven, superficial series of celebrations, as it has become over the years. He viewed it as an opportunity for Americans to demonstrate what they had learned all year long. Woodson opined that the need for the observation would end, and that Black History would eventually be embedded where it belongs, in American History. Shortly before his death he wrote: “It is evident from the numerous calls for orators during Negro History Week that schools and their administrators do not take the study of the Negro seriously enough to use Negro History Week as a short period for demonstrating what the students have learned in their study of the Negro during the whole school year.”
Joan Potter, African American Firsts: Famous, Little-known and Unsung Triumphs of Blacks in America (4th Edition) (2014)
Roger M. Valade III, The Essential Black Literature Guide (1996)
Charles M. Christian, Black Saga:The African American Experience (1995)
Tim Ott, “How Carter G. Woodson’s Life’s Work Fueled the Creation of Black History Month” (January 26, 2021)
Daryl Michael Scott, “February 7: Carter G. Woodson Launched Negro History Week,” (2011)