When Carter G. Woodson launched Negro History Week in Feb. 1926, the event was heralded in the AFRO. “Negro History Week is Observed in Public Schools,” a story dated Feb. 20, 1926 was headlined and underneath, ran the subhead: “School Heads Report City Wide Study of Achievements of Men and Women of Race.”
The story detailed what instructors at Baltimore’s Black schools did to commemorate the week. At School No. 108, for example, students “were taught the National Negro Anthem.” At Douglass Junior High, students sang the anthem and presented “brief biographies of the lives of Negroes at the daily assembly.” At the Colored Vocational School, “students observed the week by a discussion of outstanding Negro characters. Among those given attention were Crispus Attucks, Frederick Douglass, Benjamin Banneker, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Booker T. Washington, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, [AFRO founder John H. Murphy]” and others.
In creating the event, Woodson, founder of what is now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), made an eloquent argument for the need for Blacks’ history to be recognized and celebrated. His argument was the subject of a lecture he gave to Baltimore teachers that was reported in an AFRO story also dated Feb. 20, 1926, headlined “School Books Give False History Ideas.”
“There exists a propaganda, a systemized plan to educate the world into believing that the African was only intended to become a hewer of wood and a drawer of water—a burden bearer for superior people,” Woodson told teachers. “…It’s our job to get the truth of Negro history over first to Negroes, who for generations have been told they have no history, and then to take the truth to white people.”
Later, Woodson, who wrote occasionally for the AFRO, would come to be known as the “Father of Black History.” His parents had been enslaved, but he had a yearning for education that led him to become only the second Black person in history to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard.
He founded in 1915 when he was 40 years old. A year later, he founded the Journal of Negro History, which became the Journal of African American History. In 1937, he also created the Negro History Bulletin, which was later changed to the Black History Bulletin. The publications were focused on educating readers about Black life and history.
By the time the Negro History Week reached its seventh year, some of the AFRO’s editors were opposing it.
In an editorial dated Feb. 25, 1933 entitled “Why Negro History Week,” the writer describes a scene where Johnny, a young boy, questions the commemoration. It is “harder to remember, trying to cram it all down at one time!” the child said of trying to recognize so much information in one week.
The AFRO writer agreed.
“We are at heart uncompromisingly opposed to the Negro History Week observance because of the idea of separation that it sets up,” the newspaper said.”Further, it is observed only in Negro schools, and white children, who need to be taught as much as our own that the Negro has not always been a dullard and a burden in America, are not given the benefit of this knowledge, and their conception of the race is dwarfed, and the march toward justice is therefore retarded. This is criminal. We are in hearty accord with little Johnny—we’ll take our Negro history along with the rest.”
In 1976, the commemoration was lengthened to the entire month of February and named Black History Month.