WASHINGTON, DC – February is “Black History Month”, and there is an extra incentive to celebrate: 2020 is the 150th anniversary of the 15th amendment to the Constitution.
The provision, ratified on February 3, 1870, mandates “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
Black History Month did not become an official festivity until 1976; however, it was begun when historian Carter G. Woodson, and Jesse E. Moorland, an educator and a prominent civic leader, started the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, to publicize African-American accomplishments.
The organization– now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History [ASAALH] — sponsored the first Negro History Week in 1926, and honored the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
Lincoln, born in a log cabin on February 12, 1809, is considered the country’s best president; Douglass, an ally of Lincoln, was born a slave on February 14, 1818, and later distinguished himself as an abolitionist, author, educator, orator, and statesman.
Negro History Week quickly evolved into an event that inspired schools and communities throughout the country to participate. By 1976—the country’s bicentennial—Negro History Week was officially re-branded, and expanded to what is now Black History Month, by President Gerald Ford.
“The African-American experience has been an integral part of our nation’s history since the colonial times. Black Americans distinguished themselves during the Revolutionary War, endured great suffering before and after the Civil War, and still managed to make great contributions in science, art, literature, and sports,” says David Bruce Smith.
Smith co-founded The Grateful American Book Prize, a history advocacy initiative, with the late Dr. Bruce Cole, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Cole once said that Americans had become “historical amnesiacs.”
They inaugurated the Prize in 2015 to encourage authors and publishers to produce more interesting books of historical fiction and non-fiction for adolescents, with the hope that over time, historical literacy would rise.
RECOMMENDED READING BY THE GRATEFUL AMERICAN BOOK PRIZE JUDGES
• Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction And The Dawn Of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Tonya Bolden; [2019 Honorable Mention].
• Hidden Figures [2017 Prize winner], by Margot Lee Shetterly.
• Dreamland Burning [2017 Honorable Mention], by Jennifer Latham.
• Freedom’s Price [2016 Honorable Mention], by Michaela MacColl and Rosemary Nichols.