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Why Was February Chosen to Celebrate Black History Month?

Why is February the month chosen to celebrate the achievements of Black Americans? Which U.S. president made the month we celebrate today official?

By
Jake Rossen, Mental Floss
2-minute read
The Quick And Dirty

Black History Month began as “Negro History Week,” a label applied by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926. Woodson chose that the second week in February specifically because it covered the birthdays of Frederick Douglass (February 14) and Abraham Lincoln (February 12). In 1976, President Gerald Ford made Black History Month official.

Every February since 1976, the United States has celebrated the achievements of African-Americans during Black History Month. The month-long celebration puts those accomplishments and milestones into focus via the media and in classrooms.

But why February? Was that part of the calendar chosen for any specific purpose?

Black History Month began as “Negro History Week,” a label applied by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926.

It was. Black History Month began as “Negro History Week,” a label applied by historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926. Woodson was bothered by the fact that many textbooks and other historical reviews minimized or ignored the contributions of black figures. Along with his Association for the Study of Negro Life and History—later the Association for the Study of African American Life and History—Woodson earmarked the second week in February to raise awareness of these stories.

Woodson chose that week specifically because it covered the birthdays of Frederick Douglass (February 14) and Abraham Lincoln (February 12). The ensuing publicity led many mayors and college campuses to recognize the week; through the years, the groundswell of support allowed the occasion to stretch throughout the entire month.

In 1976, President Gerald Ford made Black History Month official, saying that he was urging everyone to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

A version of this article was originally published as "Why February Was Chosen as Black History Month" on Mental Floss. Read more from Mental Floss.

About the Author

Jake Rossen, Mental Floss

Jake Rossen is a senior staff writer for Mental Floss.