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Celebration of the Month Library Exhibits: What is Black History Month?

Celebrate monthly events with these commemorative library exhibits!

What is Black History Month?

National African American History Month in February celebrates the contributions that African Americans have made to American history in their struggles for freedom and equality and deepens our understanding of our Nation's history.

National African American History Month had its origins in 1915 when historian and author Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. This organization is now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (“ASALH”). Through this organization Dr. Woodson initiated the first Negro History Week in February 1926. Dr. Woodson selected the week in February that included the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two key figures in the history of African Americans.

In 1975, President Ford issued a Message on the Observance of Black History Week urging all Americans to "recognize the important contribution made to our nation's life and culture by black citizens." In 1976 this commemoration of black history in the United States was expanded by ASALH to Black History Month, also known as African American History Month, and President Ford issued the first Message on the Observance of Black History Month that year. In subsequent years, Presidents Carter and Reagan continued to issue Messages honoring African American History Month.

In 1986 Congress passed Public Law 99-244 (PDF, 142KB) which designated February 1986 as "National Black (Afro-American) History Month.” This law noted that February 1, 1986 would “mark the beginning of the sixtieth annual public and private salute to Black History.” The law further directed the President to issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe February 1986 as Black History Month with the appropriate ceremonies and activities. President Reagan issued Presidential Proclamation 5443 which proclaimed that “the foremost purpose of Black History Month is to make all Americans aware of this struggle for freedom and equal opportunity.” This proclamation stated further that this month was a time “to celebrate the many achievements of African Americans in every field from science and the arts to politics and religion."

In January 1996, President Clinton issued Presidential Proclamation 6863 for “National African American History Month." The proclamation emphasized the theme for that year, the achievements of black women from Sojourner Truth to Mary McLeod Bethune and Toni Morrison. In February 1996 the Senate passed Senate Resolution 229 commemorating Black History Month and the contributions of African American U.S. Senators.

Since 1996, Presidents have issued annual proclamations for National African American History Month. On February 1, 2011 President Obama issued a Proclamation reflecting on this year’s theme of “African Americans and the Civil War” as we commemorate the sesquicentennial of the beginning of the Civil War.

Legislative Branch Documents

To provide for the designation of the month of February, 1986 as "National Black (Afro-American) History Month," Public Law No. 99-244, 100 Stat. 6 (Feb. 11, 1986).

Commemorating Black History Month and contributions of African-American United States Senators, S. Res. 229, 142 Cong. Rec. 3528 (Feb. 28, 1996).

Resolution Celebrating Black History Month, S. Res. 380, 152 Cong. Rec. S1447 (Feb. 16, 2006).

Whereas during Black History Month it is important that we not forget that African-Americans are not the only survivors of the transatlantic slave trade, H. Con. Res. 175 (November 16, 2006).

Additional Congressional resolutions celebrating Black History Month from 2007 to the present can be found on

Executive Branch Documents

Presidential Proclamations and Executive Orders have been used by presidents to rule on substantive issues of law; to administrate the executive branch of government; and to make general announcements to the public. These general announcements which exhort the public to observe a holiday such as Thanksgiving or honor a particular group of citizens as in National African American History Month are usually issued in the form of a Presidential Proclamation. On many occasions Congress will pass a law specifically requesting the President to take certain action such as proclaiming the recognition of a particular group of citizens such as Jewish or Hispanic Americans.

Presidential Proclamations for the annual observances of National African American History Month from 1986 to the present can be browsed through the American Presidency Project by selecting the year to be browsed and clicking on the Apply button. Presidential messages, statements and remarks before 1993 can be searched from the home page of the American Presidency Project.

Presidential proclamations as well as Presidential statements, messages, remarks for African American History Month can be searched from the Government Printing Office’s Advanced Search page in the collections for the Code of Federal Regulations, the Compilation of Presidential Documents and the Federal Register.

Listed below are links to examples of Presidential Messages and Proclamations for African American History Week or Month along with the citations to the Public Papers of the Presidents, the Code of Federal Regulations or the Federal Register, the official publications for Presidential Messages and Proclamations.

President Ford's 1975 Message on the Observance of Black History Week, 1 Pub. Papers 164 (Feb. 3, 1975).
President Carter's 1978 Message on National Afro-American (Black) History Month, 1 Pub. Papers 224 (Jan. 27, 1978).
President Reagan's 1981 Message on the Observance of National Afro-American (Black) History Month, 1 Pub. Papers 66 (Feb. 2, 1981).
President George H.W. Bush's 1991 Message on the Observance of National Afro-American (Black) History Month, 1 Pub. Papers 129 (Feb. 11, 1991).
President Clinton's 1993 Message on National African-American History Month, 1 Pub. Papers 28 (Feb. 1, 1993).

Proclamation No. 5443, 3 C.F.R. 19 (1986)
Proclamation No. 6863, 3 C.F.R.19 (1996)
Proclamation No. 6970 (PDF), 3 C.F.R. 18 (1997)
Proclamation No. 7067 (PDF), 3 C.F.R. 7 (1998)
Proclamation No. 7404 (PDF), 3 C.F.R. 44 (2001)
Proclamation No. 7868 (PDF), 3 C.F.R. 9 (2005)
Proclamation No. 8103 (PDF), 3 C.F.R. 3 (2007)
Proclamation No. 8345 (PDF), 3 C.F.R. 36 (2009)
Proclamation No. 9080 (PDF), 3 C. F.R. 6 (2014)
Proclamation No. 9696, 3 C.F.R. 30 (2018)

Web Resources

Library of Congress: African American History Month

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH)

NAACP Archives at the Library of Congress


Wood, Margaret. “African American History Month.” African American History Month | Law Library of Congress, 1 Apr. 2012, Accessed Jan. 25, 2021