A Look Back at Black History Month Over the Years

February 26, 2018

Woodson and Black History Month 2018Learn more about Black History Month including the role a man named Dr. Carter G. Woodson played in shining the spotlight on the contributions of black Americans.

The roots of Black History Month date back to the year 1926 and a man named Dr. Carter G. Woodson. A child of former slaves, Dr. Woodson spent his boyhood in Kentucky working in the coal mines. It wasn’t until the age of 20 that he started high school. He graduated within two years and went on to study at Harvard, where he was awarded a Ph.D.

After his studies were complete, Dr. Woodson took on a new challenge. Because he was dismayed to discover history books at the time largely ignored the contributions of black Americans, in 1915 he established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now known as Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

But that wouldn’t be the end of his attempts to shine the spotlight on the contributions of black Americans.

Black History Month is Celebrated in February

In 1926, Dr. Woodson launched an annual initiative to bring national attention to the contributions of black people throughout American history. He chose February for Black History Month. Among the reasons he cited for doing so were the birthdays of two men who had an impact on the lives of black Americans: Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

Black History Month Statistics and Trends

In 2017, Pew Research released a study highlighting the progress of black Americans. Some of their most notable findings include:

  • While more black Americans are completing high school, they still haven’t caught up with their Caucasian peers. 93% of white adults age 25 and older have a high school diploma compared with 88% of black adults.
  • The number of black Americans with a bachelor’s degree continues to trend upward. It reached 23% in 2015.
  • Members of Congress who are black reached an all-time high in 2017, up to 50 (47 in the House and 3 in the Senate) from a total of 13 in 1971 (12 in the House and 1 in the Senate).
  • Significant gaps in income still exist. In 2015, the median household income for black Americans was $44,100 versus $75,100 for whites.
  • When it comes to median net worth, white households had a combined wealth in 2013 that was roughly 13 times greater than that of black households coming in at $144,200 for white households and $11,200 for black households.
  • The poverty rate has fallen for black Americans dipping from 31.1% in 1976 to 24.1% in 2015.
  • 61% of black Americans say race relations in the U.S. are generally bad, and only 34% believe race relations are generally good.

2018 Black History Month

The 2018 theme for Black History Month will be African Americans in Time of War. You can visit the Association for the Study of African American Life and History to learn more about planned activities and events.