Tracing the Origins of Black History Month

Feb. 1 marks the start of Black History Month. WKYC Channel 3 in Cleveland looked at the origins of Black History Month and Kent State University’s connection to the monthlong celebration.

Black History Month traces its roots to 1926, when Carter G. Woodson, Ph.D., founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, established Negro History Week, celebrated during the second week of February.

By 1969, Kent State’s Black United Students organization, with support from campus educators, began to advocate that the entire month of February be commemorated as Black History Month. After a year of planning, the first observance of Black History Month took place at Kent State in 1970.

It would be another six years before February received a formal national designation as Black History Month by President Gerald Ford in 1976. By then, Black History Month was a well-established commemoration at Kent State.

Mwatabu Okantah, professor and chair of Kent State’s Department of Africana Studies, told WKYC Channel 3 that he was a freshman when Black History Month was established at Kent State.

“I’m the last person who was actually an undergraduate student here in the 1970s, who's seen this go through all of its manifestations,” Okantah said. “It’s special because I can literally say to students I’m a part of a generation of Black United Students that dreamed about your presence here so that your presence represents what was for us the vision of a future.”

Deanna Baccus, a Kent State junior who currently serves as president of Black United Students, said she is inspired to keep walking in the footsteps of those who came before her.

“If people paved the way, why not make the way longer?” Baccus asked. “Make that path longer for other people to take and make it so it goes around multiple times.”

Black History Month events at Kent State will be held throughout February at various university departments and locations. For a complete list, visit the Black History Month events calendar.  

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Photo Caption:
Mwatabu Okantah, professor and chair of Kent State’s Department of Africana Studies, discusses the roots of Black History Month. (Image courtesy of WKYC Channel 3)

POSTED: Wednesday, February 1, 2023 11:47 AM
Updated: Thursday, February 2, 2023 01:48 PM
Emily Vincent