Jan. 29, 2021
Sarah Keeling, Ph.D.
NACA Director of Education & Research
February is Black History Month and the theme this year is The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity. Black History Month got its genesis from Carter G. Woodson who formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in Chicago in 1915. Woodson, who received a doctorate in history from Harvard, wanted to study, advance and celebrate Black life and history.
As early as 1920, Woodson urged black civic organizations to promote the achievements that researchers were uncovering. A graduate member of Omega Psi Phi, he urged his fraternity brothers to take up the work. In 1924, they responded with the creation of Negro History and Literature Week, which they renamed Negro Achievement Week. Their outreach was significant, but Woodson desired greater impact… In 1925, he decided that the Association had to shoulder the responsibility. Going forward it would both create and popularize knowledge about the black past. He sent out a press release announcing Negro History Week in February, 1926. (Retrieved from
February was chosen strategically - the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass were traditionally celebrated by Black communities. However, Woodson’s intentions were to instill a tradition of celebrating that recognized regular people and their contributions. “Rather than focusing on two men, the black community, he believed, should focus on the countless black men and women who had contributed to the advance of human civilization.” Woodson pressed for educational materials to be distributed and taught to both children and adults across the country. Some teachers had to hide their materials in order to teach Black history.
Eventually, Negro History Week became Black History Month in the 1960s. Woodson’s Association, now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, has had Black History Month and its’ theme endorsed by the US President since the mid-1970s.
Try to move beyond the typical ways Black History may be celebrated. As you consider your Black History Month programming, in what ways can you incorporate the theme of Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity? In what ways are Black families represented in the media? How do Black students at your institution define “family?” Challenge yourself and your team to approach this month in a new way.
For more information, check out the Association for the Study of African American Life and History at
Sarah Keeling, Ph.D. serves as director of Education & Research for the National Association for Campus Activities and has over 20 years of higher education experience. Her Ph.D. in higher education administration is from the University of South Carolina. Related Professional Competency: Cultivating a Sense of Belonging