The precursor to Black History Month was created in 1926 in the United States, when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be "Negro History Week".
This week was chosen because it coincided with the birthday of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and of Frederick Douglass on February 14, both of which dates black communities had celebrated together since the late 19th century.
Throughout the 1930s, Negro History Week countered the growing myth of the South’s “lost cause”, as epitomized in the novel and movie “Gone With The Wind. That myth argued that slaves had been well-treated, that the Civil War was a war of “northern aggression,” and that blacks had been better off under slavery. “When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions,” Woodson wrote in his book “The Miseducation of the American Negro.” “You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his 'proper place' and will stay in it.”
Black History Month was first proposed by black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University in February 1969.
The first celebration of Black History Month took place at Kent State one year later, from January 2, 1970 – February 28, 1970.
Six years later, Black History Month was being celebrated all across the country in educational institutions, centers of Black culture and community centers, both great and small, when President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month, during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial.
He urged Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history".
In the United Kingdom, Black History Month was first celebrated in October 1987.
It was organised through the leadership of Ghanaian analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, who had served as a coordinator of special projects for the Greater London Council (GLC) and created a collaboration to get it underway.
In 1995, after a motion by politician Jean Augustine, representing the riding of Etobicoke—Lakeshore in Ontario, Canada's House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month and honored Black Canadians.
In 2008, Senator Donald Oliver moved to have the Senate officially recognize Black History Month, which was unanimously approved.
Ireland's Great Hunger Institute, at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, notes: “Black History Month Ireland was initiated in Cork in 2010. This location seems particularly appropriate as, in the 19th century, the city was a leading center of abolition, and the male and female anti-slavery societies welcomed a number of black abolitionists to lecture there, including Charles Lenox Remond and Frederick Douglass."
On 21 February 2016, 106-year Washington D.C. resident and school volunteer Virginia McLaurin visited the White House as part of Black History Month. When asked by the president why she was there, McLaurin said, "A Black president. A Black wife. And I’m here to celebrate Black history. That's what I'm here for".
By 2020, Black History Month had become a focus beyond schools. The Wall Street Journal describes it as "a time when the culture and contributions of African Americans take center stage" in a variety of cultural institutions including theaters, libraries and museums.
In February 2020 Forbes noted that "much of corporate America is commemorating" Black History Month including The Coca-Cola Company, Google, Target Corporation, Macy's, United Parcel Service and Under Armour.