February is Black History Month, a time dedicated to celebrating and amplifying the essential contributions of Black people in the story of America, which so often get overlooked and under-recognized. National and local events and online celebrations will take place throughout the month to focus attention on Black people's achievements and history.
Since 1976, the US has marked the contributions of Black people and celebrated the history and culture of the Black experience in America every February. Read on to learn more about Black History Month and the ways in which you can participate.
The story of Black History Month
Born as a sharecropper in 1875, Carter G. Woodson went on to become a teacher and the second African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard. He founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History in 1915 and eventually became known as the "father of Black history."
On Feb. 7, 1926, Woodson announced the creation of "Negro History Week" to encourage and expand the teaching of Black history in schools. He selected February because the month marks the birthday of the two most famous abolitionists of the time -- Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Feb. 1 is also National Freedom Day, a celebration of the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the US.
By the 1940s, schools in Woodson's home state of West Virginia had begun expanding the celebration to a month, and by the 1960s, demands for proper Black history education spread across the country. Kent State's Black United Students proposed the idea of a Black History month in 1969 and celebrated the first event in February 1970. President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976 during the US bicentennial.
The excellent history site BlackPast has a full biography of Carter Woodson and the origins of Black History Month.
Visit a Black or African American history museum
Almost every state in the US has a Black history museum or African American heritage site. The country's first and oldest is the Hampton University Museum in Hampton, Virginia. Like many other museums, it offers a virtual tour and online exhibits.
One of the most famous of these museums is the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The museum, which is located steps away from where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, allows you to sit with Rosa Parks on the bus that inspired the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, among many other powerful exhibits.
African-American heritage sites include historic parks and other significant locations and monuments in Black history. Some of the most popular include Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas, the epicenter of US school desegregation. You could also consider visiting the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta.
If there's no museum or heritage site near you, keep an eye out for the Black History Mobile Museum, which traverses the country all month and through the summer. Throughout February you can find the mobile museum in several states, starting in New Jersey on Feb. 1 and making its way through 12 other states. See the full list of 2023 tour dates here.
Learn about Black music history by listening online
From spirituals and blues to the rise of jazz, R&B and hip hop, Black music has been entwined with American culture for centuries.
There are lots of ways to learn about and experience the power of Black American music online. One of the most extensive and free resources is the Black Music History Library, created by Jenzia Burgos. The compendium includes an array of Black music sources, with links to music samples, full recordings and interviews, as well as books and articles.
Another remarkable Black music website is the #312 Soul project. Originally launched as a month-long series on Chicago's Black music from 1955 to 1990, the site publishes original stories from Chicago residents about their personal experiences creating and enjoying Black music.
For snapshots of Black music between 1982 and 1999, check out the Hip Hop Radio Archive, a collection of radio show recordings from commercial, college and independent hip-hop stations. Of particular note are classic radio shows from New York City's WBLS, featuring Rap Attack with Marley Marl and Mr. Magic.
Online streaming music services also curate collections for Black History Month -- Spotify has an extensive collection of Black music in its Black History is Now collection. Tidal and Amazon Music also include special Black music collections on their services.
Support Black-owned businesses and restaurants
Becoming a customer of local Black businesses helps protect livelihoods and supports Black entrepreneurs.
If you aren't sure which businesses in your area are owned and operated by your Black neighbors, several resources can help. Start off by learning how to find Black-owned restaurants where you live.
Several directories have now been created to highlight and promote Black businesses. Official Black Wall Street is one of the original services that list businesses owned by members of the Black community.
Support Black Owned uses a simple search tool to help you find Black businesses, Shop Black Owned is an open-source tool operating in eight US cities, and EatBlackOwned.com and EatOkra specifically helps people find Black-owned restaurants. Also, We Buy Black offers an online marketplace for Black businesses.
The online boutique Etsy highlights Black-owned vendors on its website. And if you're searching for make-up or hair products, check CNET's own list of Black-owned beauty brands.
Donate to Black organizations and charities
Donating money to a charity is an important way to support a movement or group, and your monetary contribution can help fund programs and pay for legal costs and salaries that keep an organization afloat. Your employer may agree to match employee donations, which would double the size of your contribution -- ask your HR department.
Nonprofit organizations require reliable, year-round funding to do their work. Rather than a lump sum, consider a monthly donation. Even if the amount seems small, your donation combined with others can help provide a steady stream of funds that allows programs to operate.
Here are some non-profit organizations advancing Black rights and equal justice and supporting Black youth:
- Black Lives Matter
- Thurgood Marshall College Fund
- Color of Change
- Black Girls Code
- The Black Youth Project
Attend local Black History Month events
Many cities, schools, and local organizations will host events celebrating Black History Month in February 2022. Check your local newspaper or city website to see what events are happening in your area -- for example, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Baltimore and Louisville, Kentucky, have extensive events planned this month.
If you can't find anything in your area or don't want to attend events in person, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, is offering a handful of online Black History Month events throughout February.
Watch Black history documentaries and movies
You can find movies and documentaries exploring the Black experience right now on Netflix, Disney Plus and other streaming services.
The CNET staff has compiled a selection of feature films and documentaries for Black History Month 2023, including the wonderful Summer of Soul and Black is King. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu all have special collections of streaming movies and shows for Black History Month.
PBS also offers several free video documentary collections, which include smaller chunks of Black history for all ages. The collections include subjects like the Freedom Riders, the 1963 March on Washington and the Rise and Fall of Jim Crow.
Find Black authors and stories for yourself and your children
There are so many great books written by Black authors you should read -- not only during Black History Month but all year round. So, where do we start? Try your local library. Many will have Black History Month collections for both adults and kids.
Libraries will also often have Black History Month book recommendations by age. The San Diego Public Library, the Detroit Public Library and DC Public Library, for example, have programs and collections to browse for adults and children.
Next, try Black booksellers. The Noname Book Club, dedicated to amplifying diverse voices, has compiled a list of Black-owned bookshops across the US. The club also highlights two books a month by writers of color.
Dive deeper into Black history with online resources
You can find remarkable Black history collections on government, educational and media sites. One of the best is the aforementioned BlackPast, which hosts a large collection of primary documents from African American history, dating back to 1724.
The National Archives also hosts a large collection of records, photos, news articles and videos documenting Black heritage in America. The expansive National Museum of African American History & Culture's Black History Month collection is likewise full of unique articles, videos and learning materials.
The New York Times' 1619 Project tracks the history of Black Americans from the first arrival of enslaved people in Virginia. The Pulitzer Center hosts the full issue of The 1619 Project as a PDF file on its 1619 Education site, which also offers reading guides, activity lessons and reporting related to the project.
You can buy The 1619 Project and the children's picture book version -- The 1619 Project: Born on the Water -- as printed books.