The United States, Canada, and Germany observe February as Black History Month.
The observance originated in the US to recognize and honour the contributions and achievements of the country’s Black populations and their role in US history.
Other countries, including the Netherlands, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, celebrate Black History Month in October.
What is Black History Month?
Black History Month is an annual celebration that started in the US in 1926. It was conceived by historian Carter G Woodson who proposed marking a time to honour African Americans and raise awareness of Black history.
The month of February was chosen to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln, the US president who issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and Frederick Douglas, an African American orator, social reformer, writer, and abolitionist.
In 1976, under President Gerald Ford, Black History Month was officially recognized in the country.
Currently, the White House defines it as “both a celebration and a powerful reminder that Black History is American history”.
The Month also honours the contribution and legacy of activists, politicians, and civil rights pioneers, including Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks, among others.
In Canada, Black History Month is seen as an opportunity to celebrate “the achievements and contributions of Black Canadians and their communities who have done so much to take make Canada a culturally diverse, compassionate, and prosperous country”.
In the US, Black History Month is celebrated with a range of activities, including events at universities, museums, and public schools as well as within different communities across the country.
Furthermore, the U.S. Embassy in Berlin continues the Diversity in Diplomacy series with a panel discussion consisting of U.S. Mission foreign service officers and diplomats of the Auswärtiges Amt Initiative Diplomats of Color.
During the month of February, the panellists share their experiences of being a part of the foreign service and why they chose to become diplomats. They contribute to advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in their missions, thereby working to ensure that future generations receive equal opportunities to join the world of diplomacy regardless of race, gender, sexual identity, or economic status.
One of the remarks by Elizabeth Horst, Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs, U.S. Embassy Berlin for last year’s celebrations acknowledged that the US would not be the same without the contributions of black men and women.
”What have key figures from U.S. Black History taught us about forging reconciliation across differences? How have Black women and men built bridges that cross not only race, but also ethnicity, nationality, religion, and other forms of difference? What does it take to build cultures of inclusion, especially after histories of exclusion, oppression, and violence? By understanding the contributions made by past and present historical figures, we can share the important lessons learned for addressing the conflicts that prevent our societies from making progress. We can all become change leaders by learning from these examples and taking practical actions to make lasting changes. Please join this interactive discussion as we connect across nations – the U.S. and Germany – in ways that advance our understanding and deepen our sense of shared endeavour” Elizabeth noted.
Every year there is also a theme that marks the celebration and last year’s theme focused on Black people’s health and wellness.
According to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), “last year’s theme considered activities, rituals, and initiatives that Black communities have done to be well”.
“This theme acknowledges the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also other ways of knowing (eg, birth workers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc) throughout the African Diaspora,” ASALH said last year.