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Negro History Week began 85 years ago; became Black History Month in 1976

Carter G. Woodson mural on 7th Street in Washington, D.C.
Carter G. Woodson mural on 7th Street in Washington, D.C.
Kevin Harber/Flickr (Creative Commons)

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Schoolchildren may take it for granted these days, but well into the 20th century, Americans didn’t learn much in their classrooms about blacks. KPCC’s Cheryl Devall has more on the decades-long effort to recognize and incorporate that history for everyone.

When historian Carter G. Woodson introduced Negro History Week, it was a radical idea. In the mid-1920s, many images of African-Americans in scholarship and popular culture relied on stereotypes and misinformation.

The notion of taking a serious approach to black history arose from black people themselves, amid a moment of cultural pride that flourished six decades after the end of legal slavery. The first Negro History Week encompassed the birthdays of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln – both of whom helped to advance the status of African-Americans. Its expansion into Black History Month coincided with the nation’s bicentennial in 1976.

This year’s presidential proclamation to honor the month invokes Douglass’ words: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” Carter Woodson might have only dreamed that a black president would issue that proclamation when people began the first Negro History Week observance 85 years ago today.