Statue of Fredrick Douglass

The History of Black History Month

February is Black History Month and, over the last decade, it has gained a lot more prominence than it once had. It’s also very possible President Joe Biden will nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court this month, making this celebration all the more meaningful.

A recent Morning Consult/Politico Poll showed 51% of Americans supported Biden’s commitment to name a Black woman to the court. At the same time, just 38% in the same poll said it was “important” that he do so. If Biden does follow through on his promise and she is approved by the Senate, she would be the first Black woman, and only the third Black justice, to sit on the Supreme Court.

But how did Black History Month get its start? And why February? Here’s a little history:

In 1915, nearly half a century after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the U.S., the Association for the Study of Negro (now African American) Life and History was founded. In 1926, the association named the second week of February as national Negro History Week.

Why was the second week of February significant? It coincided with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass. And so it went for another 50 years.

During that time, some cities recognized the week, but, by the 1960s with the civil rights movement fully engaged, some colleges began marking Black History Month.

In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized February as Black History Month, asking Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

It has only grown in importance since. This year, the month is dedicated to “Black Health and Wellness,” with the goal of spotlighting Black scholars and medical workers, as well as, demonstrating different perspectives on health beyond mainstream medicine.

This post was written by Marist Poll Media Team student Emily Frey.