On February 10th, 1976, President Gerald Ford, in his statement on the creation of Black History Month, wrote that as a nation we should “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” However, the founding of Black History Month dates back further than President Ford’s “Message” and has a history before the official recognition by the United States government. This Month’s history first began in 1915 and is closely tied with Chicago.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson, an alumnus of the University of Chicago, met with four colleagues at the Wabash YMCA in Chicago to form the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). Through ASNLH and Journal of Negro Life, Dr. Woodson published the scholarly works of Black researchers and intellectuals. In 1925, he used the publishing and organizing power of ASNLH to declare the first Negro History Week in February of 1926.
Starting in the 1940s, Negro History Week began to shift to Black History Month. At his House of Knowledge in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, Frederick H. Hammurabi, a community activist, started celebrating Black History Month and emphasized the scholarly pursuit of “African-American history and historic links between African-Americans and African culture and traditions” Hammurabi, who, inspired by his own journey to discover his African roots, helped individuals in Bronzeville discover their own African roots and spread the knowledge of African, African-American, and Afro-Caribbean history and culture.
With this history, the monthly book display, in part, seeks to explore the history of the Black community and culture in Chicagoland. It is a rich and diverse history. It is a history of labor and the industrialization of the United States. It is a history of art and literature and the Black Renaissance. It is also the history of civil rights and the continued fight for social, economic, and political equality. The history includes musicians, athletes, and a President.
In addition to the glance on material relating to Chicago, this month’s display also examines African history. The history of the continent is deeply rich and complex. It includes the culture, achievements, and life of many distinct and disparate people and civilizations. It spans millennia; it is the cradle of humankind, the birthplace of art and language, home to great and powerful empires, and origins of modern legal and justice systems.
DePaul Digication. “House of Knowledge: Knowledge is Power.” CGCT Bronzeville Community Tour. Accessed February 4, 2016. https://depaul.digication.com/cgct_bronzeville_community_tour/House_of_Knowledge
Ford, Gerald R. “Message on the Observance of Black History Month.” Speech. February 10, 1976. Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum. https://www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/library/speeches/760074.htm
Scott, Daryl Michael. “Origins of Black History Month.” Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Accessed February 4, 2016. https://asalh100.org/origins-of-black-history-month/