This week in history: The first Negro History Week recognition

In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson created the first Negro History Week, which would eventually evolve into Black History Month. Here’s a look at how it was first covered in the Chicago Daily News.

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A design of the Carter G. Woodson stamp.

A design of the Carter G. Woodson stamp. Woodson established the first Negro History Week in 1926.

From the Sun-Times archives.

As published in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:

In 1926, historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson established the first Negro History Week, a time to celebrate Black history and recognize it as a serious area of study. He chose the second week in February because the birthdays of the “Great Emancipator” Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12) and famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass (Feb. 14) usually fell on the same week. The tradition would eventually evolve into the Black History Month recognized today.

The Chicago Daily News published one article about Negro History Week in 1927 and an op-ed about it by writer and editor Chandler Owen in 1928. It would be another seven years before the paper mentioned the event, which was already receiving national attention in 1927, but Owen’s writing best demonstrates the power this week could provide, if observed by everyone.

“The greatest scholars of today are saying that there is no such thing as race in science,” Woodson told the Daily News in the Feb. 9, 1927 article, “and that there is nothing in anthropology or psychology to support such myths as the inferiority and superiority of races.”

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In Chicago, officials at the YMCA, the Metropolitan Community church, the Olivet Baptist church and other institutions organized programming for the week, the paper said. “The occasion also will be given notice in the inter-racial program this Sunday of the Chicago Church federation, in which white and colored pastors will exchange pulpits,” the paper added.

Owen’s 1928 editorial, titled “From the Negro’s Point of View,” focused on the need to uplift Black history and why doing so was necessary. He pushed back against critics (mainly white ones) who said studying Black history would be to the detriment of other races or nationalities.

“The purpose is simply to unearth, to revive, to perpetuate and to disseminate forgotten or discarded facts of history concerning the colored brother,” Owen wrote in his Feb. 4, 1928 op-ed. “Those of us who are interested in Negro history do not begrudge the prowess of a Jackson and his soldiers at New Orleans; we would simply have it remembered that 3,000 Black soldiers co-operated.”

Much of the Black history formally taught simplified the achievements of Black civilizations and focused too much on “bad points and record,” Owen said. He argued that if only the worst aspects of any group of persons were amplified, then the rest of society would view them poorly and with prejudice.

The editor also warned readers: “If only one group writes history, that group is certain to engage in laudation of itself and disparagement of others.”

Owens closed his column with a parable.

“An illustration in point is the little boy who asked: ‘Mother why is it that the picture always shows the man shooting the bear and never the bear eating the man?’ ‘Well, son,’ said the mother, ‘you see, the man paints the picture.’”

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