The story of the 'father' of Black history and the monthlong celebration he created
Ninety-five years ago, a man whose parents had been slaves set out to share with the world that the history and contribution of Black people goes far beyond what many may have thought.
His mission led to the monthlong celebration in February of Black history.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the son of former slaves, was a historian who earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He's known as the "Father of Black History," and the creator of what is now known as Black History Month.
Stony Brook University professor Dr. Zebulon Miletsky teaches African American history and is also a member of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
"He was focused, like a laser, constantly on this struggle to elevate the respect for the African American experience, in a country where there was very little of that to be found," says Miletsky.
Woodson co-founded the organization in 1915 with the goal of educating all of America about the valuable contributions of Black Americans in the foundation of this country, its history and culture.
"His theory was that if people knew more about those accomplishment, it would help to improve race relations, it would help to improve and change the way African Americans are seen in America," says Miletsky.
In February of 1926, Woodson started what was then called Negro History Week.
"He chose February because ... it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass," says Miletsky.
The weeklong celebration of Black achievement was elevated in 1976, when President Gerald Ford issued the first message on the national observance of Black History Month.
Since then, every administration has issued a proclamation about celebrating February as Black History Month, now officially called "National African American History Month."
"It's a long, steady march of progress and success, sometimes despite America," says Miletsky. "As many times as we've made steps forward, we've made steps backward. And someone like Kamala Harris, a perfect embodiment of all that."
Black History Month isn't just an American celebration -- it's also observed in Canada and the United Kingdom.
Each year, the organization Dr. Woodson founded chooses a theme to celebrate the month. The theme for 2021 is "The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity."
"I think he'd say, you know, 'job well done, but we've got to keep working tomorrow,'" says Miletsky.