Black History Month Celebrates 40th Anniversary

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This month marks the 40th anniversary of the formal recognition of Black History Month by the U.S. government — and the 90th anniversary of its precursor, “Negro History Week.”

The original celebration was launched in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, an African American historian, journalist, and author. The original commemoration was established as the second week in February because it coincided with President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12. Fifty years later, in 1976, the U.S. government formally expanded Negro History Week to span an entire month, thus creating Black History Month.

At this year’s White House event honoring Black History Month, first lady Michelle Obama reminded attendees that the achievements of African Americans should be recognized throughout the year, rather than just during one month.

“Let’s not just celebrate Black History Month in February. Let’s celebrate it every single day, every single year, forever and ever. We have contributed so much to this nation, to this planet, and we have to make sure that our young people understand where we come from, how valuable they are, and how valuable that history is,” she said.

Many companies and institutions celebrate Black History Month by hosting distinguished African American guest speakers, donating scholarship funds for African American students, or by releasing limited-edition merchandise during the month of February.

However, diversity consultants suggest that employers make Black History Month celebrations inclusive of all employees. For instance, when employees have opportunities to talk about their personal experiences confronting racism or bias in the workplace, this can lead others who haven’t had similar experiences to be more empathetic.

“We have the power to keep reaching higher and defying the odds — until a black principal dancer is no longer a cause for headlines and our children are limited only by the size of their dreams and their willingness to work for them.” Obama said.