Black History Month events happening across Illinois
February is Black History Month. According to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History:
The story of Black History Month begins in Chicago during the summer of 1915. An alumnus of the University of Chicago with many friends in the city, Carter G. Woodson traveled from Washington, D.C. to participate in a national celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation sponsored by the state of Illinois.
Awarded a doctorate in Harvard three years earlier, Woodson joined the other exhibitors with a black history display. Despite being held at the Coliseum, the site of the 1912 Republican convention, an overflow crowd of six to twelve thousand waited outside for their turn to view the exhibits. Inspired by the three-week celebration, Woodson decided to form an organization to promote the scientific study of black life and history before leaving town.
He hoped that others would popularize the findings that he and other black intellectuals would publish in The Journal of Negro History, which he established in 1916. As early as 1920, Woodson urged black civic organizations to promote the achievements that researchers were uncovering. A graduate member of Omega Psi Phi, he urged his fraternity brothers to take up the work. In 1924, they responded with the creation of Negro History and Literature Week, which they renamed Negro Achievement Week.
Woodson chose February for reasons of tradition and reform. It is commonly said that Woodson selected February to encompass the birthdays of two great Americans who played a prominent role in shaping black history, namely Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, whose birthdays are the 12th and the 14th, respectively.
The 1960s had a dramatic effect on the study and celebration of black history. Before the decade was over, Negro History Week would be well on its way to becoming Black History Month.
We highlight some of the ways you can celebrate and learn more about Black history, through events happening in Peoria, Champaign and Bloomington-Normal. These events include film festivals, STEM events, museum projects, and more.
Lincoln Carnegie Branch Manager, Peoria Public Library
Manager of Community Engagement and Programs at Spurlock Museum
Director of Marketing for McLean Museum in Bloomington/Normal