Current affairs

What is Black History Month and why do we celebrate it?

01 Oct 2022 | Written by By Paula Simpson

Photograph of a crowd, with a person holding up a 'Black Lives Matter' poster, against a blue sky.

To mark the beginning of Black History Month, The Joy Club member, Paula Simpson, provides an overview of its origins and why we should celebrate it.

Originating in the USA, Black History Month is an annual observance, known also as African-American History Month. Black History Month received official recognition from the USA’s Government in 1976, the UK and Ireland in 1987 and Canada in 1995. Since the 1990s, the significance of Black History Month has gradually increased throughout Continental Europe and is now observed in Germany, Belgium, Italy and more. 

In the USA, Black History Month is celebrated every February. February was chosen primarily because it coincides with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Abraham Lincoln was influential in the emancipation of slaves, and Frederick Douglass, a former slave, was a prominent leader in the abolitionist movements, which fought to end slavery. 

In the UK, Black History Month is always celebrated in October. You may ask why not February, as in the US. It was first launched in October 1987, on the 150th Anniversary of Caribbean emancipation. But, it is believed that the first Black History Month took place in the UK, after Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, a campaigner, decided to take action to tackle “the identity crisis that black children faced” in the 1980s. 

Hence, he conceived an annual celebration of the contributions of Africa, Africans and people of African descent to world civilisation from antiquity to the present in order to give these children a sense of their cultural heritage and identity. So for over 30 years, October has been the month when schools, libraries, museums, theatres and other establishments across the UK celebrate Black History Month. 

Whether in February or October, the message remains the same; acknowledging and honouring Black peoples’ triumphs, as well as their struggles and battles for equality. It’s about paying respect and homage to the historic leaders, but also recognising and celebrating the many talents, skills and achievements of our present Black people and those to come. 

Today, we not only celebrate the Black astronauts, such as Guion (Guy) Bluford, Ronald McNair, Frederick D Gregory, Mae Jemison etc, but also scientists: to name a few, Dr. Mark Richards, Kizzmekia Corbett, Dr. Marie M Daly, Mary Jackson, Dr. Shirley Jackson, Katherine Johnson and inventors: Charlotte Armah, Dr. Nira Chamberlain, Frederick McKinley-Jones, Garrett Morgan of the past. 

We also celebrate the rise of Black business, namely Imagine Me Stories: Black Children’s Books Monthly Subscription, Black Banks, arts, and literature that will influence the future. 

Black History Month is a chance for all of us to celebrate and highlight the best of Black culture, struggles and history, whilst promoting and understanding diversity, breaking down the walls of fear and ignorance with shared knowledge. It’s a great time to reflect on all the wonderful things Black people have contributed to the UK and the rest of the world.

Throughout Black History Month, we will be putting on events that celebrate both historical and contemporary Black people. Check out our events calendar now to book your place at some standout sessions.

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