To help mark the start of African-American History Month, here are five things to know about the national observance.
1. Carter G. Woodson pioneered the precursor to African-American History Month. In the early 1900s, Woodson, a son of former slaves and a Harvard University-educated historian, became concerned that the contributions of black people were overlooked in history books. He co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) and helped create Negro History Week in 1926 to encourage the study and preservation of African-American history.
2. February was chosen to honor two individuals. Woodson and the association chose the second week of February for Negro History Week to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Many black Americans were already celebrating Lincoln’s and Douglass’s birthdays.
3. The commemoration grew steadily in popularity. The creation of Negro History Week prompted the formation of black history clubs and encouraged teachers to seek materials to instruct their students. In the decades that followed, mayors across the United States began issuing annual proclamations recognizing the week.
4. In the 1970s, the observance expanded to a full month. In February 1970, recognizing that more awareness was needed, Kent State University and Ball State University held Black History Month commemorations. Other universities and colleges followed. In 1976, President Gerald Ford declared Black History Month a national observance, a tradition his successors have continued.
5. The Postal Service honors African-American History Month each year. In February 1978, USPS introduced its Black Heritage stamp series, which began with a release honoring Harriet Tubman. Most stamps in this series have been issued near the beginning of African-American History Month, including last week’s release of a stamp honoring Gregory Hines.
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