Last year Christine wrote about some of the laws and history relating to African American History Month, which is observed every February. We thought we’d take a closer look and expand on some of the information in that post.
Although a law designating February as African American History Month was not passed until 1986 (more on this below), it actually began as “Negro History Week” in 1926. Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, or ASALH), selected the week in February that included the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln to commemorate the history of African Americans in the United States. In 1976, ASALH expanded the observance from a week to the entire month of February and President Ford issued a Presidential Message reminding all Americans of the achievements of Dr. Woodson and the African American community.
Presidents Carter and Reagan continued to issue messages on the observance of African American History Month and, in 1986, Congress passed Pub. L. 99-244 which designated February 1986 as “National Black (Afro-American) History Month.” This law acknowledged 1986 as the beginning of the 60th annual public and private salute to Black History month. It also authorized and requested the President to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe the month with appropriate ceremonies and activities. President Reagan issued Presidential Proclamation No. 5443, which began by noting that 1986 was also the first year in which the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. was celebrated as a national holiday.
Subsequent Congresses and Presidents have issued resolutions, messages and proclamations to remind us to commemorate this month by recognizing the struggles of African Americans in this country as well as celebrating their many achievements and contributions to national life. The theme for 2012 is Black Women in American Culture and History. As President Obama states in his proclamation for this year, African American women have faced both racial and gender discrimination and yet at the same time have been “courageous visionaries” in the fight to end slavery and “tenacious activists” in the struggle for civil rights. Thus it is fitting that February is also the birth month of Rosa Parks, who helped ignite the struggle in 1955.