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Blog / The Origin of Black History Month

It’s Black History Month in the United States. Explore why February was chosen as the month to observe Black history, what President Biden has to say about the month, what organizations are working to further the cause of racial equality, and what you can do to help.

Posted by Francis Zierer on February 05, 2021

It’s Black History Month in the United States, a country still dealing with a long history of racism. President Abraham Lincoln ended slavery when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but his doing so did not end racism. The process of healing the tragedies suffered by Black America is ongoing. Black History Month was first designated on the federal level in 1976, by President Gerald Ford, though it's the brainchild of Black historian Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950). 

What is now a month began as a week, designated by Woodson and his colleagues at what is now known as the Associated for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) in February of 1926. The specific week was chosen because it included the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two important figures in Black American history. When President Ford first recognized the month in 1976, he issued a message calling on his fellow Americans to “honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Ten years later, in 1986, Congress passed Public Law 99-244, formally recognizing the month. Another ten years passed, and President Clinton issued Presidential Proclamation 6863, wherein he, as with previous documents, recognized the occasion of Black History Month, but also issued a specific focus: “This year, our observance emphasized Black women and the strides made to bring their achievements to the fore.” Ever since he issued that document in 1996, presidents have issued annual proclamations recognizing the occasion with a specific focus. President Biden issued this year’s document on the first of the month. The document recognizes that “it is long past time to confront deep racial inequities and the system racism that continue to plague our nation.”

President Biden acknowledges that “Black Americans [...] are dying, losing jobs, and closing businesses at disproportionate rates in the dual pandemic and economic crises.” This stands in contrast to former President Trump’s first Black History Month proclamation as president; he did not issue one. Vice President Kamala Harris is both the first Black person and the first woman to hold her office—a historic barrier now broken. In honor of Black History Month, we at ShareYourself would like to highlight a few organizations working hard across various fields to make both a better present and future for Black Americans.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

The NAACP, created in 1909 by a multiracial group of activists including W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells, is a longstanding and well-known pillar of the racial justice landscape. Their most celebrated achievement is the funding of multiple lawsuits, culminating in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the landmark case that desegregated schools. Currently, according to their website, they are focused on six areas: economic sustainability, education, health, public safety and criminal justice, and voting rights and political representation.

Black Lives Matter (BLM)

BLM Is a non-hierarchical movement founded in 2013, following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who killed Black teenager Trayvon Martin a year previously. By no coincidence, the NAACP was founded under similar circumstances, in the wake of a race riot in Springfield, Illinois. Apparently, 104 years later, little has changed. BLM is a young organization and it is not a monolith. Decentralization means that inner conflict arises and individuals take advantage of confusion. That said, the movement has been a rallying cry, and perhaps most importantly has inspired many people to seek out ways in which they can help make the country a better, more equitable place.

The Bail Project

Black people are incarcerated at 5 times the rate of white people; organizations like The Bail Project are working to end cash bail, which effectively criminalizes poverty. There is a racial wealth disparity in this country: in 2016, an average white family’s net worth was almost ten times that of an average Black family. If someone is arrested, can’t afford bail, and ends up in prison, it will affect them, their family, and their community—an often negative ripple effect. There are many organizations working to end mass incarceration altogether, but groups like The Bail Project provide a solution that’s a little more accessible. George Gascón, Los Angeles County’s newly elected District Attorney, announced he would end cash bail as soon as he was elected.

National Urban League (NUL)

NUL was established in New York City in 191 with this mission: “economic empowerment through education and job training, housing and community development, entrepreneurship, health, and quality of life.” They provide direct services in all those areas, research those issues, and lobby in Washington, D.C., to move forward on those issues. 


The Individual

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and a summer of protests triggered by the police killing of Black Americans, the individual (and the collective) has stepped up. Mutual aid organizations have been formed in cities across America to provide aid to their communities in the form of food, clothes, tenant advocacy, and so on. With the rise of social activism platforms like ShareYourself, it’s easier than ever to get involved with your community and similar communities around the world, even just through sharing funds. Research organizations local to you and get involved. ShareYourself is a great place to start—we host a long list of community-based causes that could use your help.

#blackhistorymonth #blackexcellence #love
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