Black History Month is an annual celebration in the United States that recognizes the history, culture, and contributions of Black Americans every February.
Although we certainly don’t need an awareness holiday to embrace and honor Black history, this month is an opportunity to reconcile with the past, pave the way for a more just future, and celebrate all the amazing figures who have taken their place in the annals of Black History.
The truth is, many of us are woefully unaware of the depth, breadth, and relevance of Black history. While we still work to remind our loved ones and colleagues that the need for racial justice is as present and persistent as ever, it’s also difficult for us to comprehend just how recently so much of Black history has taken place.
While we look at black-and-white images from the Civil Rights Movement like a long-lost period in American history, we must remember that some of our parents and grandparents watched these events unfold — only a single century after the abolition of slavery in the United States.
In fact, the origins of Black History Month developed just a little over 60 years after the 13th Amendment was ratified. In 1926, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History sponsored a national “Negro History Week,” coinciding with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass in the second week of February.
It wasn’t until 1976 that Black History Month was officially recognized. So, it’s safe to say we have a lot of catching up to do — as a society, and as individuals.
By the way, some of the links in this article (like books!) are affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you!
5 Facts About Black History Month
- Before it was Black History Month, “Negro History Week” was created by Carter G. Woodson, an African American historian, scholar, educator, and publisher. He is considered the “Father of Black History.”
- Initially, the intended purpose of “Negro History Week” was to encourage coordinated teachings of Black history in America’s public schools, although it took a little while to catch on.
- President Gerald Ford was the first to officially recognize Black History Month, in 1976.
- Before it was officially recognized by the president, students and educators at Kent State first celebrated Black History Month in February 1970.
- While you can certainly celebrate Black history anywhere at any time, only a few other countries formally recognize the holiday abroad. This includes Canada, Ireland, the UK, and the Netherlands.
While it’s important to learn more about and uplift the experiences of Black folks every single day, it’s helpful to have somewhere to start. We’ve created a guide on how to thoughtfully honor Black History Month this year:
Activities & Ideas to Honor Black History Month
Watch a documentary about the Black experience.
Whether you want a primer on Black history, or you want to dive into a specific niche (like music, film, or activism), there’s almost certainly a documentary out there for you to check out. Here are a few films for recommended viewing this month:
- Summer of Soul (Hulu)
- Let The World See (Hulu)
- The 1619 Project (Hulu)
- More Than A Month (PBS)
- The Loving Story (HBO)
- Freedom Riders (PBS)
- 13th (Netflix)
- Who Killed Malcolm X? (Netflix)
- Is That Black Enough For You? (Netflix)
Add some new podcasts to your queue.
Podcasts are a great way to learn new things and hear from diverse voices, whether you’re on the go, doing some housework, on the treadmill — or just lounging!
While there are countless amazing podcasts by Black producers and creators, here are a few that stand out for Black History Month listening:
- Historically Black
- Black History Buff
- Noire Histoir
- Witness Black History
- Code Switch
- Seizing Freedom
Read books written by Black authors.
Whether you want to continue your anti-racism syllabus, enjoy the classic poetry and prose of Audre Lorde, or you’re looking for a new novel, add some Black writers to the top of your reading list ASAP.
As always, here are a few speedy suggestions to get you started:
- “Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019” by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain
- “Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto” by Tricia Hersey
- “Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches” by Audre Lorde
- “Grand Union: Stories” by Zadie Smith
- “All about Love: New Visions” by bell hooks
- “Black Futures” by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham
- “Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay
- “Call Us What We Carry: Poems” by Amanda Gorman
- “Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Stories from the Harlem Renaissance” by Zora Neale Hurston
- “Carry on: Reflections for a New Generation” by John Lewis
Pick a handful of Black leaders throughout history and learn more about them.
While we’re always in favor of learning more about folks like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., or Malcolm X, we urge you to spend some time this Black History Month learning about lesser-known helpers in history.
Some options could include Claudette Colvin, another activist who refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus; Shirley Chisholm, the first Black congresswoman in America; or Bayard Rustin, a close advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. and a leader in both civil and gay rights.
Visit a Black or African history museum.
Nearly every major city has its own Black history museum or historical site. Even if you can’t find one near you, perhaps there’s a local museum that hosts a collection of Black history archives during the month of February. Make it a priority to visit one of these spots and learn more about Black history on a local scale.
Another great option is to check out the Black History 101 Mobile Museum, which tours the country with a diverse, interactive exhibition.
Take a virtual museum tour.
If you can’t make it out to a museum, look no further than the virtual information hubs from the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum hosts a virtual Searchable Museum, where you can explore a number of exhibitions and stories — all from the comfort of your own home.
Learn about Black music history.
So much of modern music is built on Black history. Whether you’re a fan of jazz, hip hop, or even rock ‘n’ roll, you can thank Black musicians and culture makers for the tunes you hold so dearly.
Explore the Black Music History Library to find a “living collection of books, articles, documentaries, series, podcasts and more about the Black origins of traditional and popular music dating from the 18th century to present day.”
Explore Black history archives.
There is so much Black history that has been filtered for mainstream viewing (ahem, whitewashed) that, sometimes, you really need to dig deep and do your own research.
Check out BlackPast to find a robust catalog of Black historical documents, speeches, newspapers, magazines, and more, all detailing the history of Black folks in North America.
The National Archives is also a great place to learn more.
Lastly, if you’re interested in more localized Black history, visit your local library to access archives in your own community.
Support Black-owned businesses.
Folks, it’s time to spend your dollars like it’s June 2020. In fact, why don’t you make a habit of supporting Black-owned businesses all the time?
We encourage you to shop Black-owned for the fun stuff, but also to find Black retailers and service providers you can support with many of your regular purchases, too. Maybe you can hire a new accountant for tax season, find a new shop to buy your skincare products, or even stop into a local market to shop your produce.
We created a guide on places to find Black-owned businesses that you can support both within your community and around the country.
Eat at a Black-owned restaurant.
This Black History Month, we are embracing flavor. Stop into your favorite Black-owned restaurants, buy some gift cards to give or use in the future, and invest in good food made by good folks.
Not sure where to find a new eatery? EatOkra is an app and website that connects “foodies to Black restaurants and culinary events while amplifying the dining experience for and by Black communities.”
Tip well, and be sure to keep coming back.
Donate to Black-led organizations and nonprofits in your community.
Keep Black history alive and do your part to support Black folks in your community today by making a donation. Any amount you can give is meaningful, and if you can, setting up a recurring donation can make a huge impact, all while saving you time in the long run.
While we highly recommend finding a small and local grassroots organization to support in your area, here are a few other organizations you can fund this February:
- Center for Antiracist Research
- Equal Justice Initiative
- Color of Change
- The Confess Project of America
- The King Center
- The Audre Lorde Project
- Sister Song
- The Loveland Foundation
- Black Lives Matter at School
- Anti Police-Terror Project
- Thurgood Marshall College Fund
- Black Outside
- Black Artists & Designers Guild
- Marsha P. Johnson Institute
Redistribute your wealth through mutual aid.
Eliminating the wealth gap between Black and white Americans is one of the largest challenges we all still face as a nation. Although a systemic adoption of reparations is necessary for Black Americans, we can all do our part to redistribute wealth in our own communities.
Find a mutual aid fund in your community or donate directly to an individual (or individuals) this Black History Month.
Find ways to be a more active member of your community.
Just like mutual aid, community organizing and care work are longstanding types of activism that center the needs of marginalized folks and invite us to provide practical and personalized support.
By creating networks of regenerative and integrative communities, we can begin to dismantle the anti-Black systems that have kept us all separated for so long.
Become a better neighbor. Offer time, money, a meal, a letter of recommendation, or even childcare, to help a Black friend or community member (with their consent — we’re not white savior-ing, people!). Show up to rallies. Host community letter-writing parties to your representatives. Engage with your people to make the world a better place.
Do your part to change policy.
There are a myriad of injustices Black folks continue to face across the country, and our political systems are part of the problem. During Black History Month (and all the time, duh), figure out the best ways you can take action in the policy world.
Whether it’s contacting your representatives, testifying at a hearing for a bill in your state senate, attending a city council meeting, hosting a rally or event, or volunteering with advocacy groups, we can all do our part.
Keep your eyes on policies, budgets, or discussions that include:
- Police funding or police violence (you can even zoom into specific ideas like no-knock warrants)
- Reproductive justice and maternal mortality
- Mass incarceration or the justice system as a whole
- Wage increases or wealth inequality
- Inclusive and accurate history curriculum in schools
- General issues of equality (like workplace discrimination, accessible urban planning, food deserts, etc.)
- Affordable housing or intervention for folks facing housing insecurity
- And more!
Attend a Black History Month event or parade.
There are bound to be any number of events, learning opportunities, celebrations, and more in your community throughout February. Find one, bring your family and friends, and connect!
If you can’t make it out or want to try a virtual option, the Library of Congress and other national organizations have a variety of panels, live streams, digital exhibits, and more you can add to your calendar.
Create a playlist of music by Black artists to share and enjoy.
Beyonce is great, but y’all, there are so many Black artists and musicians you surely haven’t met yet. Add your favorites to a playlist, gather recommendations from friends, or check out a curated selection on TIDAL, Spotify, or Apple Music.
Enjoy a TV show made by Black creators.
There is so much good TV at the tips of our fingers that sometimes it feels impossible to leave the couch. This also means it’s literally that easy to bump a show created by a Black writer/producer/director to the top of your watch list. Here is a quick (but not comprehensive) list of recommendations for your viewing pleasure.
TV shows to watch:
- Abbott Elementary (ABC, Hulu, HBO)
- Queens (Hulu)
- Lovecraft Country (HBO)
- Woke (Hulu)
- I May Destroy You (HBO)
- Colin in Black & White (Netflix)
- Black-ish (Hulu)
- Grown-ish (Hulu)
- Atlanta (Hulu)
- Insecure (HBO)
Participate in Black Movie Day.
Black Movie Day is an annual event that celebrates accomplishments by and seeks to support Black film. In 2023, Black Movie Day is on February 18.
To celebrate, you can:
- Watch a Black movie in theaters that day.
- Watch Black movies at home between 6 a.m. and midnight on February 18.
- Donate to the National Black Movie Association, which sponsors a student attending an HBCU majoring in a film profession.
- Join the conversation on social media. Use hashtags #NationalBlackMovieDay #ISupportBlackFilms.
Turn your good intentions into real change.
Workplace actions must go beyond observing Black History Month. If you want to help ensure that your good intentions are actually helping, it’s going to take ongoing expertise and anti-racism work. Consider hiring an Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity specialist, or check out the resources from The Diversity Gap, an organization that coaches race-conscious leaders and teams — including their podcast and book.
Highlight Black History Month in your company newsletter.
If your brand or company sends a newsletter to customers or team members, this is a great way to inform folks about Black History Month in a thoughtful way.
Create a section where you highlight historical figures, give folks tips for how to celebrate, share ways to give back to Black folks in your community — and maybe even share this article as a resource! (If you use stock photos, check out our guide to diverse stock photos.)
Host a team building and learning event or book club.
One of the best ways to celebrate Black history is by embracing and enjoying cultural touchstones like books, films, art, music, and more. Get your company book club fired up with a new read, host a Lunch & Learn discussion event, or a service project with a nonprofit partner.
Please, just be sure that your conversations and activities are centering the lived experiences of Black folks — and you’re not patronizing them with annoying questions or expecting them to carry the weight of these projects. Diversity and inclusion initiatives must be well-designed and should never cause more harm for the people in your workplace or community.
Hire a Black creative or artist — for a year-long contract.
If you’re planning a marketing campaign or project that would require the help of an outside agency or designer, hire a Black creator!
However, it’s super important to hire diverse freelancers outside of special months like Pride or Black History Month, so maybe take this time to plan ahead and scout some artists to hire out later in the year. Most importantly: Respect their contracts, pay on time, and pay well.
Hire a Black historian or speaker to visit.
Hear directly from an expert who can share more about local Black history and lead thoughtful discussions. This is a great option for schools and community organizations, as well as workplaces!
Cater meals from Black-owned restaurants.
If your company hosts a weekly lunch or provides meals to remote employees, a fantastic way to add some depth to this practice is by including food from Black-owned restaurants!
Perhaps you can offer gift cards to every employee, cater a meal once a week from a different Black-owned establishment in your area, or partner with a restaurant to cater for the company once a month for the rest of the year.
Become a corporate member of the NAACP.
The NAACP is an amazing and long-standing organization dedicated to the fight against systemic racism and injustice. Anyone can become a member for an annual (or lifetime!) fee, but your entire company can become a corporate member, too.
While this is as simple as making a donation, really embrace your membership by accessing resources, connecting with other values-aligned organizations, and helping your team members take action.
Volunteer with and/or match donations for a Black-led organization.
Connect with a local Black-led nonprofit or a chapter of a national organization and see how you can volunteer as a team during Black History Month (and the rest of the year, too).
Additionally, you can provide a list of nonprofits that your employees can support — and match their donations to make an even bigger impact.
Recognize the need for rest.
While some small companies may not be able to offer increased time off to employees, consider what you can do to improve the lives of your team members — especially Black folks.
In what ways can you provide more rest time or less demanding schedules? How can you better respect boundaries between work and life? Where have you failed in welcoming someone’s full self in the workplace?
While wealth equality and robust policies are vital to racial justice, reparations also take the form of naps, affirmation of the work and contribution folks provide to your organization — and true rest that implores folks to take time off and turn off their Slack notifications.
Tricia Hersey of The Nap Ministry does an amazing job of helping us untangle our need for rest from the web of capitalism and white supremacy.
For Kids / Students At School
Talk to your kids or students about race.
We all know that so many of our beliefs and values are connected to what we learned — or didn’t learn — in our formative years. Parents, teachers — and even those cool aunts — have a responsibility to have important and accessible conversations with the children in their lives about race.
For children of all racial backgrounds, Black History Month conversations can be both celebratory (hooray for Michael Jordan!) and serious (What is oppression and how does it harm our neighbors today?). It can be really challenging to strike a balance and get the ball rolling, so definitely consider exploring the National Museum of African American History & Culture guide to talking about race.
The Smithsonian also has a great list of books to turn to when having these conversations.
Be intentional about your language.
In those conversations about race, it is so important to be mindful of the language you use. TikTok creator Naomi O’Brien (@readlikearockstar) explains this so well:
“When you are talking to your students about why Black people were facing segregation, be really mindful about using phrases like ‘they couldn’t go to school because they were Black, they couldn’t drink out of the water fountain because they were Black’ because if the reason is because they were Black, then what is the solution to that? To stop being Black,” O’Brien explains. “We need to shift our language.”
O’Brien urges educators and parents to reframe those sentences, like: “They couldn’t go to school because there were racist people and racist laws that were stopping them from going to school. There is nothing wrong with being Black. Being Black isn’t the problem.”
These simple changes can make an enormous difference in a child’s understanding of Black history.
Read books and poems by Black writers — and then discuss them.
Gathering around for story time? Assigning a syllabus of reading materials for the semester? Grabbing books from the library for bedtime stories? Assign, encourage, and read aloud books and poems by Black writers and about race.
Not sure what to add to your reading list? The New York Public Library has a great information hub for Black History Month that includes a Black liberation reading guide for kids, teens, and adults. We also highly recommend Britt Hawthorne’s helpful Instagram resources for avoiding kids books with harmful or toxic narratives.
Give presentations about Black historical figures.
Some of the most fun memories I have from my school days were presentations and research projects that were interactive and inspired me to be more like a historical figure. A great way to celebrate this month is to assign students a research project on Black folks that have made history.
Make sure to help students brainstorm folks they might not already know about and make the project fun! Is there an art project component? Can students collect items that represent their historical figure? Maybe you can even tweet a photo out to Kamala Harris or Oprah Winfrey!
Decorate your classroom.
Whether it’s through student-made projects like the one mentioned above, or an engaging bulletin board, this is a great opportunity to decorate your classroom with helpful materials.
Maybe students can make their own protest signs as they learn about the Civil Rights Movement, or they can create their own portraits and make a mini Black history museum.
Plan a meaningful field trip.
If you have a Black history museum or historical site in your area, plan a field trip! This is a great way for students to learn more and facilitate a relationship between students and the world outside of their school-time bubble.
Have a movie day.
Movie days are a win for teachers and students alike, so add one to your lesson plans this month! If your students are really good or ace their Black history projects, you can even have popcorn and snacks while you watch and discuss Hidden Figures (or any other age-appropriate film or documentary).
On Social Media
Follow Black creators — and amplify their work.
Black History Month — like every awareness holiday — isn’t about you as an ally. Don’t post on social media about all the amazing things you’ve done to uplift the Black community.
Instead, quietly listen, learn, and support Black voices by amplifying their content. If you have a large platform, you can do creator takeovers or Q&As, too!
Share helpful information and images.
If you do plan to post specific content about Black History Month, make sure you’re sharing accurate historical information, helpful resources, or advocacy action items. Later has a great guide for celebrating Black History Month on social media.
Have important conversations with your loved ones.
Activism happens in the Senate and in the streets, but it also happens at our kitchen tables or on FaceTime. Embrace the weird, vulnerable feelings and have important conversations with the people in your lives.
Direct them to helpful resources to learn more about Black history, call them in and talk about why language matters, and discuss why they might support certain political candidates. These conversations do change minds and hearts, even when it feels easier to avoid them.
We do understand that this often takes a lot of emotional energy, so be sure you feel confident and comfortable with your boundaries when you engage with folks who might be more willing to pick a fight than learn something new.
Don’t leave your anti-racism work behind after February.
We hope that this guide is a helpful starting point — or a refresher — for your Black history awareness and anti-racism efforts.
But we also hope that you will keep the momentum going after Black History Month. It’s important to celebrate the progress we’ve made, reconcile with our shortcomings, and delight in our communities, but we know that racism doesn’t just disappear after one month of recognition.
Practice any of these items year-round, allocate financial resources to make ongoing donations, and continue to do your part in the fight for racial justice 365 days a year.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do we celebrate Black History Month?
Black History Month is an annual celebration of the contributions and achievements of Black Americans and an opportunity to recognize their integral role in American history. It’s a time to more deeply understand the complex history of the nation and how we will continue to progress toward justice.
Why is February Black History Month?
February is Black History Month because in its original iteration, as “Negro History Week” in 1926, the Association for the Study of American Life and History chose the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
What is the Black History Month theme for 2023?
In 2023, the theme for Black History Month is Black Resistance. This theme honors and recognizes the resistance of historic and ongoing oppression of Black Americans. Themes for Black History Month date back all the way to 1928 (before it was even called Black History Month).
When is Black History Month in the UK?
In the United Kingdom, Black History Month is observed in the month of October. It was first celebrated in the UK in 1987, officially recognizing the important history of people from African and Caribbean backgrounds, which has been long ignored.
How many Black holidays are there?
Black and African American holidays go beyond Black History Month, Juneteenth, and MLK Day. There are more than 45 holidays and celebrations that are especially of interest to the Black community.
Explore the complete list of Black and African American holidays to celebrate all year long.
What are some good quotes for Black History Month?
Whenever you’re sharing quotes — especially during events like Black History Month — it’s important that you understand the context and purpose it was originally intended for. Don’t use quotes out of context, and make sure you’re using quotes only when the message would align with the mission and values of their authors.
With that being said, we’ve curated some incredible collections of quotes that you should absolutely explore:
- Best Black History Month quotes
- Best quotes about activism
- Best quotes about social justice
- Best Martin Luther King Jr. quotes
- Best Coretta Scott King quotes
- Best Nelson Mandela quotes
- Best Desmond Tutu quotes
- Best Amanda Gorman quotes
- Best Maya Angelou quotes
- Best Bryan Stevenson quotes
- Best Marsha P. Johnson quotes
- Best John Lewis quotes
What do the colors of Black History Month represent?
Four colors commonly represent Black History Month: black, red, green, and yellow. Black represents the resilient people who we honor and affirm; red symbolizes the blood of innocent Black lives lost throughout history; green symbolizes the rich natural resources of Africa, and yellow represents optimism, justice, and equality for all.
Next month is Women’s History Month — explore our guide full of activities and ideas to celebrate