The Story Behind Black History Month

By Sara Grimes


I am sure that you have heard by now that it’s Black History Month. It’s a month where we reflect on the legacy of great Black historical figures. Yet the history of the founder of Black History Month remains shrouded in mystery. Who was he?

His name is Carter Godwin Woodson, a black Historian in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He was the second black student to obtain a PhD from the University of Chicago after W.E.B. DuBois, a contemporary of his. 


Carter Godwin Woodson

An ardent traveler, Woodson was able to observe the realized potential of black students abroad in the Philippines and Europe. He soon noticed the United States set a disturbing precedent for conditioning the black student with a sense of passivity and inferiority. He believed the education system’s failure to teach authentic Black history in schools and the scarcity of literature on this history was unacceptable. 

There were four themes in U.S. History that troubled Woodson

  1. The conditioning of the black individual to sublimate themselves into the “proper place”
  2. The didactic nature of white teachers who had authority over black students
  3. The lack of Black teachers, historic role models, and expression of Black realized potential
  4. The lack of positive representations of Black culture

Woodson set out to reverse these negative institutional systems. In 1933, he published his book “The Mis-Education of the Negro.” This book, which analyzes the forces that worked to keep African-Americans in their place, argued for a society in which the black individual worked against the negative education and conditioned themselves for resistance. Black History Month was not a product of a national whim, but of a lifetime of work to present a more holistic and authentic history to empower the Black community. Now, more than ever, we need to educate ourselves on this history and understand how the fight goes on.    

Read more about the “Mis-Education of the Negro” here.


Sara recently received her Master’s degree in Public Affairs at University of San Francisco.  She completed this while working full time as social media associate and program manager for  environmental education non-profits NatureBridge and Action for Nature. Sara has been a committed social justice advocate since her days writing cultural content pieces for the University of Washington’s student newspaper through her days serving in Americorps. She enjoys working in social entrepreneurship, since it allows her to invest in the cross section of innovation and active citizenship.