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Fedfacts: February Is National African American History Month
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National African American History Month annually celebrates the contributions that African Americans have made to American history in their struggles for freedom and equality and deepens our understanding of our nation’s history.

National African American History Month had its origins in 1915, when historian and author Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. This organization is now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Through this organization Dr. Woodson initiated the first Negro History Week, in February 1926. Dr. Woodson selected the week in February that included the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two key figures in the history of African Americans. 

In 1975, President Gerald Ford issued a Message on the Observance of Black History Week, urging all Americans to “recognize the important contribution made to our nation's life and culture by black citizens.” In 1976, this commemoration of black history in the United States was expanded by ASALH to Black History Month, also known as African American History Month, and President Ford issued the first Message on the Observance of Black History Month that year. In subsequent years, Presidents Carter and Reagan continued to issue messages honoring African American History Month. 

In 1986, Congress passed Public Law 99-244, which designated February 1986 as National Black (Afro-American) History Month. This law noted that February 1, 1986, would “mark the beginning of the sixtieth annual public and private salute to Black History.” The law further called upon the president to issue a proclamation to observe February as Black History Month with the appropriate ceremonies and activities. President Ronald Reagan issued Presidential Proclamation 5443, which proclaimed that “the foremost purpose of Black History Month is to make all Americans aware of this struggle for freedom and equal opportunity.” This proclamation further stated that the month was a time “to celebrate the many achievements of African Americans in every field from science and the arts to politics and religion.”

In January 1996, President Bill Clinton issued Presidential Proclamation 6863 for National African American History Month. The proclamation emphasized the theme for that year: the achievements of black women, from Sojourner Truth to Mary McLeod Bethune and Toni Morrison. In February 1996, the Senate passed Senate Resolution 229, commemorating Black History Month and the contributions of African American U.S. senators.

Since 1996, presidents have issued annual proclamations for National African American History Month. On February 1, 2011, President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation reflecting on 2011 theme of “African Americans and the Civil War” as we commemorate the sesquicentennial of the beginning of the Civil War. 

In February of 2019, the theme for African American History Month is Black Migrations, focusing on the movement of people of African descent to new destinations and subsequently to new social realities. The theme highlights migration of Blacks in all forms from the early decades of the 20th century when African-American migration patterns included relocation from farms to cities. Blacks also moved from the South to the Northeast, Midwest and West. Focus is also on immigrants from the Caribbean to American cities as well as to migrant labor farms and the emigration of noted African-Americans to Africa and to European cities, such as Paris and London, after the end of World War I and World War II.

Sources: Library of Congress; New York Amsterdam News

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