February is known nationally as “Black History Month.”
This celebration had its roots in 1926, when Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now known as the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, proposed that the second week of February be known as “Negro History Week.” This week was significant because the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14) fall within the week. Interestingly, the birthday of W. E. B. Dubois (February 23, 1868), the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution granting suffrage to African American men (February 3, 1870), and the founding of the NAACP (February 9, 1909) also fall within the short month of February.
In 1976, this week was expanded to commemorate the entire month of February as Black History Month. Every year since, the President of the United States has issued a proclamation declaring the beginning of Black History Month. The very first by President Gerald R. Ford was issued on 10 February 1976, and read,
IN THE Bicentennial year of our Independence, we can review with admiration the impressive contributions of black Americans to our national life and culture.
One hundred years ago, to help highlight these achievements, Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. We are grateful to him today for his initiative, and we are richer for the work of his organization.
Freedom and the recognition of individual rights are what our Revolution was all about. They were ideals that inspired our fight for Independence: ideals that we have been striving to live up to ever since. Yet it took many years before these ideals became a reality for black citizens.
The last quarter-century has finally witnessed significant strides in the full integration of black people into every area of national life. In celebrating Black History Month, we can take satisfaction from this recent progress in the realization of the ideals envisioned by our Founding Fathers. But, even more than this, we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.
I urge my fellow citizens to join me in tribute to Black History Month and to the message of courage and perseverance it brings to all of us.
GERALD R. FORD
Source: Gerald R. Ford, “Message on the Observance of Black History Month, February 1976,” online transcription, John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters, The American Presidency Project (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=6288: accessed 18 Jan 2011).
To read President Barack Obama’s Proclamation from February 2010, visit the White House website.
What better way to celebrate African American history this February than by learning to research African American ancestry?
The National Institute of Genealogical Studies offers a four-week course in “Research: African-American Ancestors,” beginning 7 February 2011. Michael Hait, the author of the African-American Genealogy Examiner column, created this course, and serves as the instructor.
To register for this course, visit the NIGS website, http://www.genealogicalstudies.com/. Under the “Courses” menu, click on “Course Calendar.” The “Research: African-American Ancestors” course appears under the “Elective Courses” tab. Click the “Register” button next to the course to register. Registration is now open for the February 2011 course offering.