Gettysburg College and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion join in paying tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society.
To commemorate and celebrate the contributions to our nation made by people of African descent, American historian Carter G. Woodson established Black History Week (then called “Negro History Week”) nearly a century ago. The event was first celebrated during the second week of February 1926, selected because it coincides with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and abolitionist/writer Frederick Douglass (February 14). That week would continue to be set aside for the event until 1976 when, as part of the nation’s bicentennial, it was expanded to a month. Since then, U.S. presidents have proclaimed February as National African American History Month1.
“As a Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, like W. E. B. Du Bois before him, believed that truth could not be denied, and that reason would prevail over prejudice. His hopes to raise awareness of African American's contributions to civilization was realized when he and the organization he founded, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), conceived and announced Negro History Week in 1925. The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The response was overwhelming: Black history clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive whites, not simply white scholars, and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort.
By the time of Woodson's death in 1950, Negro History Week had become a central part of African American life and substantial progress had been made in bringing more Americans to appreciate the celebration. At mid–century, mayors of cities nationwide issued proclamations noting Negro History Week. The Black Awakening of the 1960s dramatically expanded the consciousness of African Americans about the importance of black history, and the Civil Rights movement focused Americans of all colors on the subject of the contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.
The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation's bicentennial. President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” That year, fifty years after the first celebration, the association held the first Black History Month. By this time, the entire nation had come to recognize the importance of Black history in the drama of the American story. Since then, each American president has issued Black History Month proclamations.2
2Excerpt from an essay by Daryl Michael Scott, Howard University, for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History
Virtual Tours of Historically Significant Sites
Taking a virtual tour of significant museums or cultural sites is a great way to explore Black history online. Here are some great suggested virtual tours for Black History Month:
- Virtual Civil Rights Trail
- Freedom March Selma to Montgomery
- Google Arts and Culture Black History and Culture
- National Center for Civil and Human Rights Virtual Tour
- National Museum of African American History and Culture Online
Events Happening Nationally During Black History Month
February 5 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm EST
The Manhattan Branch will host a panel discussion on health care disparities in urban African American communities. The panel will explore ways in which race has shaped African American health throughout American history and how it paralleled, reinforced or contradicted the ways in which racialized conceptions of Blacks have shaped healthcare opportunities and/other discourses.
February 8 @ 6:00 pm - 6:15 pm EST
Online - Free
An Afro-Caribbean in the Nazi Era: From Papiamentu to German is the true story of how Lionel Romney experienced the Nazi era as told to his daughter, Mary L. Romney-Schaab. He was one of relatively few Black people to be imprisoned in the concentration camp system and even fewer who lived to tell about it.
February 8 @ 7:30 pm - 7:45 pm EST
Online via ASALH TV
Chaplain & Civil Rights Activist, Dr. Eve Taylor, Pens Her Provocative Book on America’s Troubling History with Race, The Torn Fabric of America: The Racial Divide, Black and White writes in her book, HOW over the ages, slavery has evolved into what can be called modern-day slavery.
February 10 @ 6:00 pm - 6:15 pm EST
Online - Free
John McFall was born 15 years after Emancipation. He was the first of eleven children born to a freed couple in Charleston, South Carolina.
February 10 @ 6:30 pm - 6:45 pm EST
Online - Free
In the 1860s, Lloyd Earl was an African American entrepreneur disguised as an enslaved carpenter who traveled nationwide with freedom papers forged by his own hand. Collector of the “comebacks,” Lloyd Earl built the first Negro Kitchen Library in the USA. His family and others like it were found on a list called The Curiously Successful Negro. A list kept in secret for more than 100 years by Harvard University!
February 23 @ 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm EST
Online - Free
Benjamin Bowser, a sociologist, will explore the social and cultural legacies; and George Woods, a Forensic Psychiatrist, will explore the psychological and psychiatric legacies. Regina Mason, a descendant of freedom seeker William Grimes, will discuss the impact of the surveillance and enforcement practices of slavery on her ancestor.
February 24 @ 6:00 pm - 6:15 pm EST
Online - Free
In Generations of Freedom Nik Ribianszky employs the lenses of gender and violence to examine family, community, and the tenacious struggles by which free blacks claimed and maintained their freedom under shifting international governance from Spanish colonial rule (1779-95), through American acquisition (1795) and eventual statehood (established in 1817), and finally to slavery’s legal demise in 1865.
February 24 @ 7:00 pm - 7:15 pm EST
Online - Free
In this highly original book, Maboula Soumahoro explores the cultural and political vastness of the Black Atlantic, where Africa, Europe, and the Americas were tied together by the brutal realities of the slave trade and colonialism.
Historical and Current Videos plus Extra Video Resources
Nine short stories on Martin Luther King, Jr., produced by the USIA for Black History month. Stories including King holiday; wreath-laying at the Lincoln Memorial; Jesse Jackson on MLK; King/Civil Rights; Reagan speaking to schoolchildren; MLK bust unveiled at the Capitol; Andrew Young reflects; MLK celebration/Atlanta; and MLK celebration/Washington, DC.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was interviewed by four journalists for “Press Conference U.S.A.,” a U.S. Information Agency (USIA) series that was distributed internationally.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the March for Jobs and Freedom, the Motion Picture Preservation Lab completed a full digital restoration of James Blue's monumental film, The March, in 2008.
This Inside the Vaults video short follows the subject of the photograph, Edith Lee-Payne of Detroit, who celebrated her 12th birthday by attending the March on Washington with her mother.
Highlights of the National Conversation on Rights and Justice in Atlanta in 2016. Moderated by Jelani William Cobb, contributing editor to the New Yorker and associate professor of history and the director of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut.
Other Historical videos
- Barack Obama discusses race relations in the US
- President Obama: ‘Post-Racial America After My Election’ Unrealistic | NBC News
- President Obama speak at African American History museum reception
- David R. Williams: How Racism Makes Us Sick
- Michelle Obama: A passionate, personal case for education
- Kamala Harris: Black Women Are the Backbone of Our Democracy
- Serena Williams: World's Most Disrespected Athlete
- Life on the Road as a Black Woman | Independent Lens | PBS
- Oprah Winfrey: Racism - How a Gang of Skinheads Forever Changed the Course
- The Oprah Conversation — Will Smith Talks About Racism in His Career
- Oprah Winfrey: The Anti-Racism Experiment That Transformed an Oprah Show Audience
Extra Video Resources
- Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era
- Emancipation Proclamation 150th Anniversary at the National Archives
- DC Emancipation Act
- African American Life in Washington, DC, Before Emancipation
- Madame C. J. Walker in the National Archives
- A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life
- The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism
- Revolutionary Movements Then and Now: Black Power and Black Lives Matter
- The 14th Amendment’s Shield of National Protection
- Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad
- Lincoln's Gamble: How the Emancipation Proclamation Changed the Course of the Civil War
- Facing Slavery’s Legacy at Georgetown University
- Protecting America's Treasures: Black History in the Vault