As February is Black History Month, HSPRD joins in the celebration of Black Americans’ achievements and their central role in U.S. history. Black History Month is the culmination of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) and other leaders’ years of activism and was officially recognized by the U.S. government about 50 years after the first celebration.
HSPRD is proud to be Chicago-born, a city with deep historical roots and that has served as a critical hub for Black advocates. Around 1915, Carter G. Woodson, the son of two former enslaved persons and the second Black American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard, established his base in Chicago, where he wrote and published a book on Black history, organized a 50th anniversary celebration of the emancipation of enslaved Americans in Washington, D.C., and co-founded an organization that eventually became ASALH. ASALH remains the oldest organization dedicated to the study of Black history to this day. Woodson planted the seed for Black History Month by advocating for a consistent, dedicated time to celebrate Black history. In 1926, Woodson and advocates launched the first-ever week-long celebration of Black history.
Chicago flourished with other Black activists, including Frederic H. Hammurabi, a cultural activist and student at Northwestern Law School in 1926. Hammurabi founded the House of Knowledge in Chicago, where he hosted speakers, lectured, and published pamphlets on Black history and accomplishments. By the 1940s, activists like Hammurabi continued advocating for national recognition of Black history, but this time activists sought a month-long celebration. Finally, in 1976, nearly 50 years after the first organized celebration of Black history, President Ford formally recognized Black History Month.
Each year, ASALH celebrates Black History Month through the lens of a particular theme that, “reflect[s] changes in how people of African descent in the United States have viewed themselves, the influence of social movements on racial ideologies, and the aspirations of the Black community.” This year’s theme is African Americans and the Arts, which highlights that “African American artists have used art to preserve history and community memory as well as for empowerment. Artistic and cultural movements . . . have been led by people of African descent and set the standard for popular trends around the world” and recognizes that “[f]or centuries Western intellectuals denied or minimized the contributions of people of African descent to the arts as well as history, even as their artistry in many genres was mimicked and/or stolen.”
At HSPRD, we celebrate the importance of Black History Month and of continuing to center the stories and voices of the Black community. We encourage everyone to join us this month in learning more about the rich history of Black Americans’ achievements, particularly in the arts and music.