Celebrating Black History Month at the Y

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The Start of Black History Month

Since 1976, the month of February has been designated for every U.S president as a month to celebrate and recognize the contributions and achievements of African American in their central role in the U.S history. It a href=”https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/black-history-month”>honors Black people from the enslaved people first brought to over from Africa to the African Americans living in the U.S today.

Every February, the American president endorses a specific theme to celebrate the Black History Month. This year, the theme is “Black Health and Wellness” that acknowledges the legacy of Black scholars, medical practitioners, and other ways of knowing throughout the African Diaspora.

Facts of the Month

  1. The month of February was intentionally chosen to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, and Frederick Douglass, African American Social Reformer.
  2. Black History Month is celebrated in countries like United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Ireland.

  3. Black History Month is also called African American History Month.
  4. In 1976, the United States President, Gerald Ford, expanded the Negro History Week to Black History Month and encouraged Americans to participate in its observance.
  5. Even though the United States President, Gerald Ford, made the official the month, the Civil Rights Movement of 1960, helped the celebration to be recognized nationally, and to make it one-month observance.

Discover the Y’s Connection to Black History Month

In 1915, Carter G. Woodson, a University of Chicago alumnus, arrived in Chicago to attend a national celebration of the 50th anniversary of emancipation sponsored by the state of Illinois.

Inspired by this three-week celebration where thousands of African Americans had travelled from across the country to see exhibits that highlighted the progress of their people since the end of slavery, Woodson met at the Wabash Avenue YMCA in Chicago with a small group and formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). This began the foundation that would create Negro History and Literature Week, renamed Negro Achievement Week, later Negro History Week and eventually Black History Month.

Known as the “Father of Black History,” Woodson wanted the study of past black life to have significant impact stating, “We are going back to that beautiful history, and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements.” It is important to note that the focus of Black History month has been on black achievements since enslavement in the US, however, Woodson’s intent was to explore modern black history as a starting point to deeper exploration beyond the arrival of enslaved Africans in the Americas.

Black Leaders at the Y

Anthony Bowen

A former slave and the first Black American to become a clerk in the U.S. Patent Office, Anthony Bowen founded the first YMCA for the Black community in Washington, D.C., in 1853, eight years before the Civil War. Additional Black Ys and college chapters were established in the following decades, with membership reaching 28,000 nationwide by the mid-1920s.

William A. Hunton

The son a freed slave from Canada, William Hunton began his Y work in 1888 as the first employed YMCA secretary at a “Colored YMCA” in Norfolk, VA. Hunton worked among the soldiers in the Army camps during the Spanish-American War and in developing Student YMCAs on black campuses throughout the South. He helped communities meet Julius Rosenwald’s challenge grant to build YMCAs for Black communities, and then helped recruit and train the staff and volunteers to lead those associations.

Carter G. Woodson

In 1915, at the Wabash Avenue YMCA in Chicago, Carter Woodson organized the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which researched and celebrated the achievements of Black Americans. This led to his starting Negro History Week, the precursor to Black History Month.


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