The relevance of February goes back to 1926, when ASALH’s founder Dr. Carter G. Woodson first established “Negro History Week” during the second week of February. And why that week? Because it encompasses the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass—both men being great American symbols of freedom. However, Woodson never confined Negro History to a week. His life’s work and the mission of ASALH since its founding in 1915 represent a living testimony to the year-round and year-after-year study of African American history.
The genius of Dr. Woodson could be seen in his prolific scholarship and in his mentorship of younger scholars. His genius could also be seen in innovative popular programming, such as Negro History Week, for African Americans of all ages and all walks of life. The week provided a special time for us to collectively celebrate our racial pride as well as collectively assess white America’s commitment to its professed ideals of freedom. Black teachers in segregated public elementary and secondary schools engaged their students in an array of festivities—plays, pageants, reciting of speeches, essay contests, concerts, and other events. At the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, in 2016, the late Congressman John Lewis shared fond memories of his boyhood school experiences during Negro History Week in rural Alabama. Negro History Week included yet another tradition—an annual fundraising banquet attended by ASALH’s adult members, who listened to inspiring speeches on the role of knowledge in the ongoing struggle for racial equality. It is no wonder that the NAACP conferred its highest medal, the Spingarn Medal, on Carter G. Woodson in 1926 after he launched Negro History Week that very same year. Today in the twenty-first century, ASALH remains faithful to Woodson’s legacy of excellent scholarship and innovative programming.