Celebrating Black History Month

Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans.  It is a time to celebrate the breadth of African American history and culture.  It is also a time for recognizing African Americans for their pivotal roles in defining many aspects of U.S. history. 

Black History Month is an expansion of what was previously known as “Negro History Week.”  It was created in 1926 by historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans who were seeking to bring to light stories of African Americans.  It has been said that Woodson had two goals of creating a time for celebration of Black History.  The first was to use history to prove that blacks played an important role in the creation of America; and that as a result they deserved to be treated equally as citizens.

The celebration of Black History in February was done with purpose and was meant to coincide with President Abraham Lincoln’s and Fredrick Douglass’s birthdays, both of whom were notable symbols of freedom in U.S. History. Then, in 1976, President Gerald Ford extended the observation to a full month. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February for Black History Month.  Likewise, Canada and the United Kingdom also designate a Month to Black History.

When establishing Negro History week, Carter G. Woodson realized the importance of providing a theme to focus the attention of the public with the passage of time. The intention of a theme for each celebration of Black History was not to curtail the exploration of all aspects of the Black experience, but to bring to the public’s attention significant developments that merited particular emphasis. 

This year the theme of Black History Month is Black Resistance.  African Americans have had to resist historic and ongoing oppression on their journey to equality.  As we saw in the 1950s and 1970s, the United States was defined by sit-ins, boycotts, walk outs, strikes by African Americans and their allies in the fight for justice against discrimination in all areas of society.  Through resistance, African Americans continue to shape and develop social movements to allow African Americans to thrive.

The founders’ vision for a celebration of black history as a means of transformation and change to equality remains relevant. There is always a need to draw inspiration and guidance from the past.  It is important for all of us to learn how to do better and be better towards one another, leading our lives with kindness and grace, striving for growth and change wherever necessary. 

Authored by Catherine R. Everett, Esq., Of Counsel, in the Metropolitan New York (Woodbridge, NJ) and Long Island, NY offices and a member of the firm’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee.