February 2024

African American History and Heritage Month

Welcome to African American History and Heritage Month! Better known as Black History Month, this month of national celebration was established in 1926 as “Negro History Week” by historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Woodson earned his PhD from Harvard University in 1912. He was the second African American to earn a PhD from Harvard. The first African American to earn a PhD from Harvard was Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois. These Harvard alumni stood as two of the most significant scholar-activists of the early twentieth century. Woodson, considered the progenitor of African American History Month, was concerned about education and the preponderance of miseducation regarding the history of Black people.

Many African Americans facetiously criticize African American History Month being in February because it is the shortest and one of the coldest months of the calendar year. The second week of February, however, was originally selected as Negro History Week because both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln have birthdays that week. Whereas both men were regarded as champions of liberation and freedom, their birthdays were already being celebrated by the Black community. As a result, the second week of February was an obvious choice. Rather than focusing on the two men’s individual accomplishments, Woodson wanted the community to focus on the countless Black men and women whose lives advanced human history.

Woodson’s fundamental concern was to counter the false narrative being perpetrated against African Americans. With the memory of enslavement still present, the existence of counter-narratives that ended Reconstruction, and the new era of lynching mediating America, he wanted to end Blacks being mis-educated on what it meant to be human and reimage who can be citizens of the United States of America. By establishing Negro History Week, he stressed the importance of knowing the vital contributions made by African Americans to United States history. He wanted the stories of African American history-makers to neither be hidden nor understated.

During February, Iliff School of Theology doubles down on our embedded commitment of honoring African American religious history, spirituality, and theological discourse. Our commitment to diversity includes educating everyone about the nuances of African Americans religious experiences that have mediated survival and liberation. We know that Black history is American history; therefore, we remain vigilant and sensitive about explicating Africana ways of knowing. During this month, we encourage everyone to reflect on Iliff’s institutional core values of Academic Engagement, Intersectional Accountability, Relational Respect, and Dynamic Spirituality through the interpretive lenses of African American religiosity, history, and heritage. Enjoy your month of focused study!

Rev. Dr. Lee Butler, Jr.