Each year when February rolls around, we celebrate Black History Month. This month serves as a way to honor and recognize the hard work and sacrifices made by African Americans throughout the history of our country.
President Barack Obama said that Black History Month is about “taking an unvarnished look at the past so we can create a better future. It’s a reminder of where we as a country have been so that we know where we need to go.”
The reason for a dedicated month of recognition is obvious – Black Americans continue to fight racism every day and are still responsible for a countless number of amazing feats. But, why do we celebrate in February?
It all started in 1915 by a Harvard-educated historian named Carter G. Woodson. Woodson got the idea after attending an event in Illinois celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the Confederate States that seceded from the United States: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. But, in fact, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that all people held as property in the United States were officially free – which is why we celebrate Juneteenth. But, that’s another story.
The celebration that Woodson attended commemorating the 13th Amendment lasted for three weeks – with many exhibits depicting important events and nuances of African American culture. It inspired Woodson to form the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH), in hopes that it would encourage the exploration and appreciation of the accomplishments made by African Americans. Today, their mission is to promote, research, preserve, interpret, and disseminate information about Black life, history, and culture to the global community.
Woodson wrote The Journal of Negro History in 1916 and was looking for an outlet that would help him promote it to a larger audience, so he turned to his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi. By 1926, they responded by creating Negro History Week in collaboration with ASALH to be commemorated the second week of February. This week was chosen because it aligned with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass – both extremely influential men who were great American symbols of freedom for the Black community.
As time went on, more and more clubs, schools, and communities adopted the week into their calendars. And soon enough, the whole country was taking part in the celebration, with New York and Chicago becoming the first cities to officially declare them as Negro History Week.
By the 1960s, with wider public knowledge, the week became a month of celebration. Then, in 1976, Gerald Ford solidified the change by declaring February Black History Month, urging American citizens to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Today, the tradition lives on. Congress passed a law in 1986 deeming February as National Black (Afro-American) History Month, and Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton issued their own proclamations to recognize it as a national observance. And since 1996, every American President has issued one each year.
We encourage you to join us as we celebrate Black History Month over the next few weeks at the distillery, and for a special Night In Harlem event on Thursday, February 24. May none of us restrict this recognition to just the month of February – may it be something that we live day in and day out throughout the entirety of the year. Working to create positive change and a brighter future for the Black community as a whole.