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Black History Month: Black History Month Home

Resources for recognizing Black History Month

Black History Month

Origins of African American History Month

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in state in Statuary Hall in the US Capitol in Washington, DC on September 25, 2020. Justice Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, is the first woman to lie in state at the US Capitol.

The “Father of Modern Black History,” Carter Godwin Woodson, son of former slaves and Ph.D. recipient from Harvard University, was an ardent advocate for the study of African American history.

Woodson was a historian, author, editor, and teacher, and served as dean of the Howard University School of Liberal Arts and the West Virginia Institute. Works he has authored include The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 (1915), A Century of Negro Migration (1918), The Negro in Our History (1922), and The Miseducation of the Negro (1933).

In 1912, Woodson founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Woodson began publishing the Journal of Negro History shortly thereafter. As Woodson assisted the organization, authored several books, and served in various roles in academia over time, he recognized that most African Americans had little knowledge of their history and culture. Not only did whites see little worth in African American history, but due to their indoctrinated subservience and embarrassment surrounding the slavery experience, African Americans also displayed little interest in their past.

In 1926, Woodson promoted Negro History Week as a means of commemorating African American history when the primary contribution of African Americans to American history was viewed as slavery. Woodson and his colleagues sought to preserve their African American culture and to enlighten the public of the varied contributions and achievements that comprised their history. Because Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and Booker T. Washington all had birth dates in February, a week was selected that was in close proximity to those dates. ASALH published literature to support lectures, exhibits, and curriculum development for Negro History Week. The celebration was so well received that it gained national acclaim. In 1976, during the nation's bicentennial, Negro History Week was expanded to Black History Month, which is celebrated annually with a focus on a specific theme each year.

Read more about this year's theme.

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Important Events in Black History


A Dutch ship brought twenty Africans to the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia. They were the first blacks to be forcibly settled as involuntary laborers in the North American British Colonies.


The Stono Rebellion, one of the earliest slave revolts, occurs in Stono, South Carolina.


Eli Whitney's cotton gin increase the need for slaves.


Congress bans further importation of slaves.


In Boston, William Lloyd Garrison begins publication of the anti-slavery newspaper the Liberator and becomes a leading voice in the Abolitionist movement.


Approximately 75,000 slaves escape to the North using the Underground Railroad. 


Ex-slave Frederick Douglass publishes the anti-slavery North Star newspaper.


Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery and becomes an instrumental leader of the Underground Railroad.


Congress passes another Fugitive Slave Act, which mandates government participation in the capture of escaped slaves.


The Dred Scot v. Sanford case: congress does not have the right to ban slavery in the states; slave are not citizens.


Abraham Lincoln is elected president, angering the southern states.


The Civil War begins.


Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation proclaims that all slaves in rebellious territories are forever free.


Massachusetts' 54th regiment of African American troops led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw marches out of Boston on May 28th, heading into combat.


The Civil War ends.

Lincoln is assassinated. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting slavery, is ratified.

The era of Reconstruction begins.


The "Black Codes" are passed by all white legislators of the former Confederate States.

Congress passes the Civil Rights Act, conferring citizenship on African Americans and granting them equal rights to whites.

The Ku Klux Klan is formed in Tennessee.


The 14th Amendment is ratified, defining citizenship and overturning the Dred Scot decision.


The 15th Amendment is ratified, giving African Americans the right to vote.


The era of Reconstruction ends.

A deal is made with southern democratic leaders which makes Rutherford B. Hayes president in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops from the South, and puts an end to efforts to protect the civil rights of African Americans.


Thousands of African Americans migrate out of the South to escape oppression during the Great Migration.


Tennessee passes the first of the "Jim Crow" segregation laws, segregating state railroads. Similar laws are passed over the next 15 years throughout the South.


Plessy v. Ferguson case: racial segregation is ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court.
The “Jim Crow” (“separate but equal”) laws begin, barring African Americans from
equal access to public facilities.


Brown v. Board of Education case: strikes down segregation as unconstitutional.


In Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks is arrested for breaking a city
ordinance by refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man. This defiant act
began the Montgomery Bus Boycott and gave initial momentum to the Civil Rights Movement.


Martin Luther King, Jr. and others set up the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference, a leading engine of the Civil Rights Movement.


The Civil Rights Act is signed, prohibiting discrimination of all kinds.


The Voting Rights Act is passed, outlawing the practices used in the South to disenfranchise
African American voters.


Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.


Barack Obama becomes the first African American to win the U.S. presidential


The Black Lives Matter movement began with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African- American teen Trayvon Martin.

2014 On Aug. 9, Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old was shot and killed in Ferguson, Mo., by Darren Wilson. On Nov. 24, the grand jury decision not to indict Wilson was announced, sparking protests in Ferguson and cities across the U.S., including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Boston.
2015 The 114th Congress includes 46 black members in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate.
2020 The BLM movement swelled to a critical juncture on May 25, in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic, when 46-year-old George Floyd died after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by police officer Derek Chauvin, who was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.
2021 Kamala Harris makes history as first female and female of color to be Vice President. Ms Harris is the daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father.


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