February is African American History Month, an annual celebration that has existed since 1926. This year’s theme, according to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History is “Civil Rights in America.”
Much of the credit for commemorating African-American heritage can go to historian and Harvard scholar Carter G. Woodson, who, in 1926, organized the first annual Negro History Week, which took place during the second week of February. He chose this date to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, two men who had greatly impacted the black population. Over time, Negro History Week evolved into today’s African American History Month.
The Library houses the most comprehensive civil-rights collection in the country: the original papers of the organizations that led the fight for civil liberties, such as the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; the National Urban League; the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; the microfilmed records of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led by Martin Luther King Jr.; the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); and the personal papers of Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Arthur Spingarn, Moorfield Storey, Patricia Roberts Harris, Edward W. Brooke, Thurgood Marshall, Robert L. Carter and Joseph Rauh.
Since 1964, the Library has served as the official repository for the NAACP Records. The collection consists of approximately 3 million items spanning the years 1842-1999, with the bulk of material dating from 1919 to 1991. Included are manuscripts, prints, photographs, pamphlets, broadsides, audiotapes, phonograph records, films and video recordings. The NAACP Records are the largest single collection ever acquired by the Library and the most heavily used. The NAACP Records are the cornerstone of the Library’s unparalleled resources for the study of the Civil Rights Movement.
The list of Library resources and collections could go on and on. The digital collections of the Library contain a wide variety of material related to civil rights, including photographs, documents, and sound recordings. This guide compiles links to civil-rights resources throughout the Library of Congress website. In addition, it provides links to external Web sites focusing on civil rights and a bibliography containing selections for both general and younger readers.
Currently on exhibit is “A Day Like No Other: Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington,” to document the largest non-violent demonstration for civil rights that Americans had ever witnessed.
In partnership with several institutions, including the Smithsonian and National Archives, the Library has pulled together even more resources to recognize African-American heritage and achievement. Highlighted are presentations on the Underground Railroad, African American veterans and documentary films on the Civil Rights Movement.