Celebrate Black History Month

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Since 1976, African American History Month (also known as Black History Month) has been observed each February in the United States.

How will you observe this celebration?

Start broadly, learning about African American History Month through the documents, photos, audio and video files, and collections compiled by the Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The 2019 theme for African American History Month is “Black Migrations.” Learn more about this theme from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). The forced migration of 12 million Africans in the slave trade is a historical reality many are aware of, but this year’s theme invites us to focus on migration from the 20th century onward.

Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration*explores the journey of six million African Americans out of the southern U.S. to the northeast, mid-west and western U.S. She includes broad realities of the Jim Crow laws and pervasive discrimination and violence, but also tells the story of the Great Migration (1916–1970) by focusing on three individuals (with different socioeconomic experiences) and their journeys (to three different parts of the U.S.). Her amazing blend of storytelling and historical context has garnered a number of awards for this book, and it will doubtlessly become a classic for understanding race in the U.S. For a shorter introduction, try Isabel Wilkerson’s article for the Smithsonian, “The Long-Lasting Legacy of the Great Migration," which highlights how the Great Migration shaped the lives of actor James Earl Jones, writer Zora Neale Hurston, baseball great Jackie Robinson and others.

Share this topic with young readers in your life with Jacqueline Woodson’s This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration*;One Crazy Summer* by Rita Williams-Garciaand Bud, Not Buddy* by Christopher Paul Curtis.

The Great Migration allows us to look at black migration with a historical perspective and clarity. But black migration is still very much a reality, so the ASALHsuggests looking at more recent migration “from spatial and social perspectives, with attention to ‘new’ African Americans because of the burgeoning African and Caribbean population in the U.S.; northern African Americans’ return to the south; racial suburbanization; inner-city hyper-ghettoization; health and environment; civil rights and protest activism; electoral politics; mass incarceration; and dynamic cultural production.”

Mary Church Terrell–educator, political activist, and first president of the National Association of Colored Women. Library of Congress

Cover of Black History Bulletin (Vol. 81, #2), Black Migrations. ASALH.

Many of these are topics and concerns of Presbyterian Women (PW) and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Or if you’d like to make your observance Presbyterian-focused, read a (timeless!) short article about the ways African Americans have shaped the denomination.

Then watch Looking Back to Move Forward, a 17-minute video that highlights the witness and legacy of African American women in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its predecessor denominations. (Try the accompanying puzzle to see how much you remember!) 

Or perhaps you’d like to explore multicultural and social justice books for children, young adults, and educators.