“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated,” Woodson said of the need for such study.
In 1926, Woodson and the ASALH launched a “Negro History Week” to bring attention to his mission and help school systems coordinate their focus on the topic. Woodson chose the second week in February, as it encompassed both Frederick Douglass’ birthday on February 14 and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12.
The celebrations and studies spread quickly, as the ASALH tells it, driving demand for teaching materials and spurring the formation of black history clubs. But, though a newfound understanding of black culture and literature was spreading amongst the middle class, the idea of expanding the week to a month did not come until several decades later. During the Civil Rights Movement, Freedom Schools in the South embraced the week and its curriculum message as a way to contribute to the mission.