In 1912, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History,” became the second black man to graduate from Harvard University with a Ph.D. During his time at the institution he learned a lot about North American history, but noticed there was a clear omission of black contributions. Since slavery had been common place prior to the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 (UK) and Emancipation Proclamation 1863 (US) , black people were continually deprived of social status. Moreover, black families lost most, if not all of their heritage and family history as relatives were sold separately into the slave market.
Dr. Woodson was so compelled by the lack of black history throughout North America; he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and the Journal of Negro History both which remain active to this day under the name the Association for the Study of African American Life. In 1926, Dr. Woodson declared the first annual Negro History Week during the second week of February to correspond with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. African-Canadians, mostly those who worked on the railroad in Toronto, began to celebrate the occasion in the 1950’s. The evolution that transpired from Dr. Woodson’s efforts came to a head in the 60’s during the Civil Rights Movement.
Champions of the revolution such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lead national grassroots organizations that demanded change. They rebuked the status quo at the time which dictated that blacks and whites were “separate, but equal.” On August 28, 1969 around 250,000 people converged on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (the largest in history) to stand up for equality and demand equal rights for everyone.
Government and law enforcement officials inferred that the protest (known as the March on Washington) was going to turn violent; much to their surprise, it did not. The assemblage of people not only remained peaceful, but chanted as they thrust signs in the air, showing their solidarity. Marching from Washington Monument, the group gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to hear speeches. The last person to address the crowd was Rev. Dr. King who abandoned his prepared text and went on to make what is known today as the “I Have a Dream” speech (a portion of which can be seen in the video below).
African-Candians and African-Americans continued to embrace their history into 1976, when the entire month of February was designated Black History Month; this was twenty-six years after Dr. Carter Woodson’s death. Today, Black History Month is a time to remember and commemorate the struggles and triumphs of black people. It’s a history that not only affects black people in Canada and the United State, but the world as a whole. Come to Washington, D.C. in your car rental to see the newly revealed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial and learn more about how Black History affects everyone, aye.