By Rachel Hally, Product Manager
As we ring in this year’s Black History Month in the United States and Canada, it seems appropriate to examine the origins of this celebration.
To do that, we start in 1915 with a gathering in Chicago of leading African American scholars to mark the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. One of those in attendance was Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard graduate who taught high school in Washington, DC. Woodson called a meeting during the Chicago event to discuss “the creation of an organization to demonstrate to the world a truth that had been everywhere assaulted–that people of African descent had contributed significantly to the making of civilization and the movement of human history.”
That organization turned out to be the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Several years later in 1926, the Association created Negro History Week – later Black History Month – to promote the teaching of African American history in American public schools.
"In this centennial year of ASALH, we are excited to sponsor the 89th annual celebration of Black History Month. This year’s national theme – A Century of Black Life, History and Culture – puts a focus on the progress we have made as a nation in coming to appreciate the role that people of African descent have made in American and world history,” says Dr. Daryl Michael Scott, President of ASALH.
“With the challenges our nation faces in making history an integral part of our formal education, Black History Month and all public explorations of our common past are more important than ever. We are also proud of our role in serving as one of the principle organizations in serving the field of Black Studies, which has become a vital discipline in higher education."1
In the first annual meeting of the Association after Woodson’s death in 1950, the great African American educator Mary McLeod Bethune wrote an address, entitled “The Torch Is Ours,” urging members to carry on with Dr. Woodson’s vision. That address is now available online now History Vault. More than 60 years later, this excerpt still resonates:
“His was a great, humanitarian task, nobly and unselfishly undertaken; sturdily and effectively performed. But it was a continuing task. It was the kind of task initiated by great minds which they, themselves, may never hope to see completed – a task which must be left for fulfillment to succeeding generations of workers, lighted on their way by brightly burning fires, kindles from the torch of the leader.”
With the growth of digital research tools such as ProQuest’s History Vault, Black Studies Center, and Black Historical Newspapers, the ability to make new discoveries in African American studies continues to expand within and beyond the celebration of Black History Month.
Librarians: Learn more and sign up for free trials of ProQuest History Vault, Black Studies Center, Black Historical Newspapers, ebooks, and other ProQuest resources.
1Scott, Daryl Michael. "The Founding of the Association." Founders of Black History Month. Association for the Study of African American Life and History, 11 Oct. 2014.
[Image from Mary McLeod Bethune Papers: The Bethune Foundation Collection, Part 1: Writings, Diaries, Scrapbooks, Biographical Materials, and Files on the National Youth Administration and Women's Organizations, 1918-1955 found in ProQuest History Vault. Used with permission from the Bethune-Cookman College Archives.]