The Origin and Impact of Black History Month

I’m not going to spend the entire month on Black History Month, although I easily could, I hope that these little tidbits I’ve learned will peak your curiosity and get you to want to learn more.

I’m so ignorant and arrogant that I thought “Black History Month was developed as a token gesture by the white establishment”2 and since I actually read that in an article, I must not be the only one who thinks that. I did not know that Black History Month traces its roots back to 1926 and one man, Carter Godwin Woodson (1875-1950). Woodson was a self educated son of slave that got to attend high school at the age of 20. He finished high school in two years, earned a degree in literature and was the second African American to earn a doctorate at Harvard University.2 He went on to be a teacher, principal and supervisor of schools where he realized that that the history of African Americans was not a part of school curriculum so he founded the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History in 1915. He would then start Negro History Week that evolved into Black History Month during the Black Consciousness Movement in the 1960’s. Woodson’s goal was to “reinvigorate the self-esteem, sense of power and hunger for justice of a long-oppressed people.”2 Woodson’s second goal for Negro History Week was racial reconciliation, if whites learned about the contributions of Blacks to American History “this awareness would engender respect.”2 I am ashamed to admit that it’s 2021, almost one hundred years later and many of us have yet to get the memo!

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History(the same organization Mr. Woodson started in 1915) establishes a theme for Black History month every year. This year’s theme is: The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity. The flyer this year states, “Not only are individual black families diasporic, but Africa and the diaspora itself have been long portrayed as the black family at large.” I know about the diaspora of the Jews, I never thought about how what happened to those sold into slavery was also a diaspora and the impact it has on the community and family.

“The breakdown of the black community, in order to maintain slavery, began with the breakdown of the black family. Men and women were not legally allowed to get married because you couldn’t have that kind of love. It might get in the way of the economics of slavery. Your children could be taken from you and literally sold down the river.” 1 When you consider this reality of the family of slaves, the poverty many of them were thrust in to with “freedom”, you can see the impact on the family would last for generations. I’ve worked with a couple of kids who were trying to start out with nothing and it’s so overwhelming. We take so for granted the advantage of our support system. It seems so hopeless, but these are just a few examples give me hope:

“…A son of my late father, who was a pastor, a veteran, and a small businessman, and my mother who was a teenager growing up in Waycross, Georgia, used to pick somebody else’s cotton.  But the other day, because this is America, the 82 year old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States Senator.” January 6, 2021 Raphael Warnock upon his election to the US Senate.
“Shed some tears just now when I saw they were thinking about speeding up the process of putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. I have 4 daughters who in their lifetime have seen a president and vice president who looks like them. And soon they will could see a face like theirs on a $20 bill. I could not have imagined any of this in my childhood. Their dreams and goals are amplified to a level I could never have imagined when I was a kid. My dad always said if you put your mind to it you could do anything but I would never have dared to dream such things. Does not seem real.” Stolen from our own Chris Stephens Facebook post January 25, 2021, 10:48 p.m. (used without permission)

It has to leave you wondering, “How can I make a difference and continue to support and encourage our black brothers and sisters?” You have to continually educate yourself, continually step out of what you know, spend time with people who don’t look like you, who don’t think like you, who don’t believe like you, read, read, read! I am constantly amazed by how little I actually know, I think you may be amazed too! I end with my favorite quote:

1 Washington, K. (2021). Picking Up the Pieces: The Black Family Struggle. In Uncomfortable Conversations With A Black Man (p. 129). S.l.: FLATIRON BOOKS.

2Novelli, J. (2009, July 7). The History Behind Black History Month. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from

2 thoughts on “The Origin and Impact of Black History Month

  1. Thank you Portia for this intentional truth telling to expose many for the first time to beauty that is the family, including the black family. Gods government is in the family and the families of the African Diaspora were systematically broken down, in the name of Jesus in this United States of America. This is a truth that must be faced and reconciled in order for the Kingdom to come on Earth as it is in Heaven. This truth must be reconciled for hearts to be soften and for us ALL to exists in the Kingdom. Thank you again Portia for taking the time to shed light on this truth that must be focused on for the salvation of this country. Jesus taught us that the truth will set the captives free! We must free ourselves from the lie that holds us ALL in captivity!


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