Why does Black History Month have to be the shortest month of the year? When I hear people ask this question, it frustrates me. Why? Asking this question means that you don’t know the history of Black History Month itself. And frankly, in 2022, there is no excuse for not knowing. Google is free. Access to a public library is free. Before you use the number of days in February as a point of contention in the argument for Black History Month, find out why.
It has nothing to do with white people. It has nothing to do with someone being spiteful and giving the Black community the shortest month of the year. We celebrate Black History Month in February because of Carter G. Woodson and his goal of paying homage to people he believed supported Black people and our community.
Carter G. Woodson was born in 1875 as one of nine children to former slaves. He was mostly self-taught in his youth before entering high school at 20. Woodson would later work as a teacher and even a school principal before earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in literature. His work in education took him all over the world between North America, Europe, and Asia before he returned to the States and joined the Howard University faculty.
In 1915, Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History [ASALH]). It was in response to being barred from attending American Historical Association conferences even though he paid dues. He believed that historical organizations had very little interest in Black history, and so, ASALH served to illustrate the “neglected aspects of Negro life and history.” A little over a decade later, Carter G. Woodson would launch Negro History Week in 1926.
Carter G. Woodson created Negro History Week to educate the masses about the achievements and contributions of Black Americans. Now, why did he choose February?
Negro History Week was selected as the second week in February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. While the exact date of Douglass’s birth is unknown, we celebrate it on February 14. Meanwhile, Lincoln’s birthday is February 12. Carter G. Woodson chose these men for a reason.
We remember Abraham Lincoln as the 16th President of the United States. Some remember him as the signer of the Emancipation Proclamation and the leader of the Union during the Civil War. Now, I won’t go into the logistics that at the time the document was issued, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave. And while he was known for his feelings against slavery, in a letter to abolitionist Horace Greeley in 1962, Lincoln wrote: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.” You can use this information to gauge your feelings about Abraham Lincoln, but it has to be said that he was on the right side of the Civil War.
Frederick Douglass, however, is known for his life’s work as an abolitionist, social reformer, and writer. The son of a slave, he was born into slavery in 1818 as Frederick Bailey. Having been separated from his mother as an infant, he spent his early years with his maternal grandmother before being sent to the Wye House plantation in Maryland at age six. Douglass would eventually end up with Sophia Auld, who he credits with teaching him the alphabet. He later taught himself to read and write and would carry these teachings to other enslaved people using the Bible. When it was discovered that Douglass — only 16 years old — was teaching others to read, he was sent to a farmer known for his vicious treatment of slaves. In 1838, while Douglass was 20, he was finally able to escape and arrived at the safe house of abolitionist David Ruggles in New York. After marrying Anna Murray in September 1838, it was then that he changed his last name to “Douglass.”
Sometime later, he met abolitionist and journalist William Lloyd Garrison who encouraged him to become a speaker and leader in the abolitionist movement. And he would become one of the most prominent. Not to mention, Frederick Douglass was also a voice in the fight for women’s rights.
Later, during the Civil War, it is said that Douglass had a slight disagreement with the 16th President that was eventually resolved between the two. Douglass was disappointed when Abraham Lincoln failed to use the Emancipation Proclamation to give former slaves the right to vote. We know, however, that the right to vote wasn’t granted until the 15th Amendment in 1870. And with all the restrictions placed on Black voters, the real right to vote wasn’t given until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. But lastly, in his impressive list of achievements, Frederick Douglass was the first African American to receive a vote for President of the United States in 1888.
Carter G. Woodson took all this information about Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, and he, a Black man, decided that February would be a great time to celebrate Black people. What started as a week grew into a month, and yet, many people still have a problem with that.
Black History Month is not in February because it’s the shortest month of the year. Black History Month is in February because to Carter G. Woodson, it was the perfect time to celebrate, support, and elevate Black people.
And if you know anything about us here at Official Black Wall Street, we take the original celebration of Negro History Week from seven days to a mission we carry out all year long.