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  • Writer's pictureDustin Nelson

Black History Month 2023 Overview

Black History Month is a time dedicated to honoring, remembering, and celebrating black people, their struggles, their achievements, and their contributions to American history.

A group of black people enjoying the beach.

The Origins of Black History Month

The tradition of Black History Month was first officially recognized by President Gerald R. Ford in 1976, but its origins are rooted much further back in history. The idea to honor black history was first conceived by noted black historian and scholar Carter G. Woodson in 1926, a full half-century before President Ford acknowledged Black History Month on a national level.

Woodson is widely regarded as the father of Black History Month. Born in 1875 to former slaves in West Virginia, he was a self-taught intellectual who would become the second black person to receive a master’s degree, only behind W.E.B. Du Bois.

In 1915, Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moreland founded an organization known as the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which still operates today under the new name of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).

Years later, in 1926, Woodson used his organization to sponsor the Negro History Week, and he chose to place it on the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. He felt this was an appropriate way to honor two individuals who were crucial in securing rights for black people.

In the decades to follow, Negro History Week would grow into a popular movement and eventually become the Black History Month that we know today.

Themes that Tell A Story

Since 1928, it has been a tradition to announce a theme for the year’s Black History Month. The theme is meant to exemplify specific aspects of black history that are particularly relevant to the current events and national attitude of the time.

The themes also tell a story. By looking at successive themes over the years, we can observe how the perspectives of black people living in America have shifted, and how the attitudes from outside groups toward black people have changed.

Starting in 1928 and ending in 2023, we see a clear overview of black history by following the story of the themes. To understand this better, let’s take a look at a few themes used over the course of the Black History Month tradition.

1928 – Civilization: A World Achievement

The very first Negro History Week theme was titled Civilization: A World Achievement. For this celebration, Woodson prepared a handbook titled “Important Events and Dates in Negro History,” which includes 152 dates that highlight key events in black history up to that point.

For example, you’ll find dates like these on his list:

  • July 4th, 1881 – Booker T. Washington began his work at Tuskegee.

  • December 22, 1823 – Thomas Wentworth Higginson, commander of black soldiers in the Civil War, was born.

  • February 27, 1807 – Henry W. Longfellow was born.

  • January 1, 1863 – the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by Abraham Lincoln.

Each contribution on Woodson’s list, both by black people and those who sought to help them, improved society through art, science, governance, activism, and whole-hearted humanity.

From the first black history month theme, we can clearly see that its goal is to commemorate black individuals and their achievements as important parts of contemporary world culture.

1947 – Democracy Possible Only Through Brotherhood

In this theme, 19 years later, the tone has shifted from broad achievement to political persuasion.

That year, black leaders in unions, veteran organizations, the press, fraternal groups, politics, and culture were honored for their work in improving the democratic process for black people.

Black World War II veterans were especially active in fighting for their democratic rights back home. After the war, NAACP membership grew from 50,000 to 450,000 in one year, and these individuals laid the foundation for the civil rights movement that came to fruition in the following decades.

These former soldiers felt that they had given their country everything, fought on the battlefield as equals with their fellow white soldiers, and deserved to be treated as equals when they returned.

This sentiment was met with considerable opposition from men like Theodore Bilbo, a senator from Mississippi, but black veterans were ready to meet the challenge despite the injustices they suffered.

The 1947 Black History Month bulletin depicting the theme of the year: Democracy Possible Only Through Brotherhood

1952 – Great Negro Educators

During this point in time, a famous case was battling through the lower courts on its way to the Supreme Court: Brown v. The Board of Education. There is no doubt that this case was at the forefront of the narrative during this time.

The planners of this Black History Month theme wanted to keep the story set squarely within the realm of politics and on the front lines for the struggle for equality. However, they did so with a subtle tactic: exemplify the great black teachers.

There is certainly no shortage of black intellectuals who have contributed to the world’s collective knowledge. W.E.B Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, and Kelly Miller are counted as some of the most popular black educators and intellectuals. It was only too appropriate for the theme to honor black educators.

1976 – America for All Americans

The first officially recognized black history month theme, America for All Americans, takes an upbeat tone in the story. It exudes inclusivity and a new path forward.

President Ford invited every American to join him in this celebration to remember the all-too-easily-forgotten contributions black people have made to our country. At this point in time, Black History Month had already become popular in schools and universities, and national attitudes toward black people, in general, were improving.

Likewise, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Act of 1965 were relatively fresh in everyone’s minds, and desegregation was mostly complete.

Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights movement

Creating an America for All Americans was as fitting then as it was the decades before during the Civil Rights Movement, and it is still fitting today. This eternal theme exemplifies the lofty, yet achievable goals of our nation.

1993 – Afro-American Scholars: Leaders, Activists, and Writers

If 1976 represented the peak in Black History optimism after multiple large victories, then 1993 is the year of subdued calm. There is tension, but no conflict. Appreciation, but a desire for more.

This year explored the theme of Afro-American Scholars: Leaders, Activists, and Writers. It was the same year that Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize in literature for her works detailing the black woman’s experience in American society.

Scholars and writers like James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Oliver Cromwell Cox would have played prominent roles in school lesson plans during this month. Leaders and activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks had documentaries made to highlight their work, and they had already become household names.

2023 – Black Resistance

Thirty short years later, the story has reached the present. This theme is a stark contrast to its predecessors in our story. We see that despite the great victories won over the course of black history, there is much work to be done.

The theme of Black Resistance is provocative, current, and necessary. The tone of the theme aims to remind us of how African Americans have resisted oppression with all their facilities and through all their institutions.

Civil rights leaders resisted in the streets, poets and writers fought with ink, ministers went to battle with prayer, and professionals with the tools of their trades. Without black resistance, there would be no equal voting rights, no desegregation, and no heroes to stand up to systemic injustice.

This year, the theme reflects on the past sacrifices of black resistance leaders and looks toward the future for new leaders in the movement for justice and equality.

Learn More with ReDefiners

At ReDefiners World Languages, we strive to create a more equitable world by pioneering language learning as a tool for success. We believe that children and adults of all backgrounds can find equal footing through the opportunities created by equitable education and learning.

For Black History Month 2023, we would like to pass on the incredible history of black people in America to our readers. You can learn more about the topic from our previous articles, or you can join us in our upcoming Family Reading Day event.

If you would like to know more about our services, then check out the ReDefiners World Languages website.

Our communication-and-conversation approach is proven to be the most effective method for learning a new language. Each class is taught by teachers with native-like proficiency, and the small classes allow for unique curriculums that are molded to your learning speed. We offer online classes in English, Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin.

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