In honor of Black History Month, Hamm Clinic was inspired to take a look into how Black History Month was first started and what it looks like this year. All of the information gathered comes from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), an organization that helped establish Black History Month. Please check out their website, https://asalh.org/, to gain a deeper understanding of Black History Month, or to look into some of the wonderful work they do.
According to Daryl Micheal Scott, former National President of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the inspiration for Black History Month first occurred when thousands of African Americans visited Chicago in 1912 to see exhibits highlighting the progress that Black people had made in America since the emancipation as declared by the state of Illinois. Scott reports that Carter G. Woodson was one of those attendees; and seeing the celebration of Black History inspired him, along with four others, to form the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
In 1926, learning more about and gaining more inspiration from the vast achievements of Black people in America and beyond, Woodson and ASALH dedicated a week to honor and celebrate Black history, which was scheduled to occur in between the birthdays of Abraham Linlcon and Federick Douglas. Scott says that this celebratory week quickly picked up momentum and popularity. Woodson believed “that the weekly celebrations – not the study or celebration of Black history – would eventually come to an end. In fact, Woodson never viewed black history as a one-week affair” (ASALH, 2021). Woodson and ASALH knew that this event should not be confined to a week-long event.
Gradually, according to Scott, scholars and institutions started celebrating Black history throughout February, and ASALH began advocating for an official Black History Month. In 1976, the advocacy paid off and President Gerald Ford declared February as Black History Month.
Each year, ASALH declares a theme for Black History Month. This year, in 2024, the theme is ‘African Americans and the Arts’. ASALH reports that this theme is meant to highlight African Americans’ profound and lasting contributions to the arts, including visual and performing arts. Literature, music, fashion, film, architecture, culinary, and beyond would not be the vast and wonderful arts they are today without the influences and contributions of Black people.
However, ASALH acknowledges that many contributions of Black people were not recognized appropriately, if at all. Black art, culture, and history has been repeatedly copied and stolen. This has been an ongoing pattern in American and Western history, however “we can still see the unbroken chain of Black art production from antiquity to the present, from Egypt across Africa, from Europe to the New World” (ASALH, 2024).
From Blues music to Afrofuturism, Black art has a rich history that we have a unique chance to honor and learn about this month. Please visit https://asalh.org/black-history-themes/ to learn more about the importance and impact of this year’s theme.
Scott, D. M. & Higginbotham, E. B. (2021). The Origins of Black History Month. Association for the Study of African American Life and History. https://asalh.org/about-us/about-black-history-month/