Black History Month, also referred to as African American History Month, is celebrated each February.
While the official observance ends on Sunday, attention to Black history can continue all year long.
A historian, author and journalist named Carter G. Woodson is credited with bringing the focus to Black history. He recognized that African Americans were largely absent from official stories of United States history.
Setting out to change that, Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland in 1915 founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which would later be called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. The organization would go on to promote the study of Black history and celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans.
Moorland and Woodson’s work would help set the course for Black History Month. They launched Negro History Week in 1926. The second week in February was chosen because it was the birthday week of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, two important figures in African American history.
It would take until 1976 before Black History Month was recognized as a national observance, though many colleges and universities began recognizing the event during the American civil rights movement of the 1960s. Canada officially recognized Black History Month in 1995.
There are plenty of ways to continue to support African American culture, history and causes. One way might be to have a listen to some jazz music, which might be an unfamiliar sound to many young people.
Jazz traces its roots to African American communities in New Orleans. Some influential jazz musicians include:
— Jelly Roll Morton, a piano player and songwriter whose real name was Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe. Along with having a cool nickname, he is said to be the first jazz musician to put his music down on paper.
— Scott Joplin, who learned to play the guitar and later the piano at a very young age. By the time Joplin was a teenager, he was working as a traveling musician and eventually became the leading composer of a style of jazz known as ragtime.
—Bessie Smith, who became known as the “Empress of the Blues” thanks to her powerful voice and was one of the top Black performers in the 1920s.
— Miles Davis, who didn’t start playing the trumpet until he was 13 and introduced a new style of playing. He is considered one of the most influential figures in the history of jazz and 20th-century music.
Other ways to recognize Black History Month include:
— Read or reread Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
— Study the biography of any influential Black figure from the past or the present.
— Watch a film or read a book that focuses on an African American story.