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Today Marks the First Day of Black History Month; CT History Resources

Black History Month, or National African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history.

Report by Paula Antolini
February 1, 2016 9:49AM EDT

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Today Marks the First Day of Black History Month; CT History Resources

Black History Month, or National African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history. The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history.

Black History Month Resources

Black History Month offers the opportunity to investigate Connecticut’s complicated past in regard to slavery and abolition. For example, one can search through digitized copies of the anti-slavery newspaper the Charter Oak, a weekly begun in 1838, by visiting the Connecticut State Library’s Newspapers of Connecticut collection. Published by the Connecticut Anti-Slavery Society of Hartford, the Charter Oak’s masthead carried the motto “Free Principles–Free Men–Free Speech–And A Free Press.” In contrast, the State Library’s collections also provide online access to nine pages of a logbook of Samuel Gould, a Connecticut native who was a first mate aboard three slave ships. The digitized collection,  Log Book of Slave Traders between New London and Africa, 1757-8, affords a glimpse into the daily activities of a slave ship that participated in the triangle trade, one leg of which included Connecticut’s trade with the West Indies. The log’s details include an account of an amoebic dysentery epidemic that killed many of the enslaved African children and adults being transported.

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The story of Black History Month begins in 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. That September, the Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by black Americans and other peoples of African descent. Known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the group sponsored a national Negro History week in 1926, choosing the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln  and Frederick Douglass. The event inspired schools and communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs and host performances and lectures.

In the decades the followed, mayors of cities across the country began issuing yearly proclamations recognizing Negro History Week. By the late 1960s, thanks in part to the Civil Rights Movement and a growing awareness of black identity, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses. President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Since then, every American president has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme. The 2013 theme, At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation  and the March on Washington, marks the 150th and 50th anniversaries of two pivotal events in African-American history.

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