National Black History Month has its origins in 1915, when historian and author Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. This organization is now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History External (ASALH).
Through the organization, Dr. Woodson initiated the first Negro History Week in February 1926. Dr. Woodson selected the week in February that included the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two key figures in the history of Black Americans.
Carol M. Highsmith, photographer. The African American History Monument, completed in 2001 on the state capitol grounds in Columbia, the capital city of South Carolina. 2007. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.
In 1975, President Ford issued a Message on the Observance of Black History Week External urging all Americans to "recognize the important contribution made to our nation's life and culture by black citizens."
In 1976, ASALH expanded this commemoration of Black history in the United States from a week-long observance to Black History Month, which also has been known as African American History Month. In the same year, President Ford issued a Message on the Observance of Black History Month External. In subsequent years, presidents continued to issue messages External honoring Black History Month.
In 1986, Congress passed Public Law 99-244, which designated February 1986 as "National Black (Afro-American) History Month.” This law noted that February 1, 1986 would “mark the beginning of the sixtieth annual public and private salute to Black History.”
The law further directed the president to issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe February 1986 as Black History Month with the appropriate ceremonies and activities. President Reagan issued Presidential Proclamation 5443 External, which proclaimed that “the foremost purpose of Black History Month is to make all Americans aware of this struggle for freedom and equal opportunity.” This proclamation stated further that this month was a time “to celebrate the many achievements of African Americans in every field from science and the arts to politics and religion."
Since 1996, presidents have issued annual proclamations for National Black History Month. In January 1996, President Clinton issued Presidential Proclamation 6863 External for “National African American History Month."
The proclamation emphasized the theme for that year, the achievements of Black women from Sojourner Truth to Mary McLeod Bethune and Toni Morrison. Since 1996, Congress has regularly passed resolutions honoring Black History Month. In February 1996, the Senate passed Senate Resolution 229 commemorating Black History Month and the contributions of Black American U.S. Senators.