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Observing Black History Month In February

Celebrating Diversity, Unity, Stories, Making A Difference In The World

February includes Black History Month, during which contributions of Black communities throughout U.S. history are commemorated, from civil rights leaders, journalists and inventors to musicians, artists and politicians. Locally, there are in-person as well as virtual ways to participate in the observation. 

Nationally, Black History Month reportedly was 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 a year later, from Jan. 2 to Feb. 28, 1970. Aso known as African-American History Month, the observance since received official recognition from other governments, including Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

However, some credit Carter Woodson, an African-American historian who graduated from Harvard with a Ph.D. and founded a weeklong observance in 1926 to highlight the history, lives and contributions of Black Americans to American society. In 1976, that week stretched into an official monthlong celebration under U.S. then-President Gerald Ford.

Locally, in observation of the month for 2023, Mercer County Library staffers are hosting the virtual presentation, Freedom to All: New Jersey's African-American Civil War Soldiers, on Feb. 8, from 7-8 p.m. Author and historian, Joseph Bilby discusses his book, Freedom to All, which explores the contributions of New Jersey's African-American Civil War soldiers. Considered an often overlooked subject, Joseph expands on the involvement and historical impact of nearly 3,000 New Jersey African-Americans in the Union Army and Navy. Registration with an email is required for this event, so a link can be sent to connect through GoToMeeting. To register, email hopeprogs@mcl.org.

For the 2022 Black HIstory month, Hopewell Valley School District representatives celebrated by sharing resources and information with the Hopewell Valley community via a vitual discussion with authors Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills regarding their book: If These Stones Could Talk:  African American Presence in the Hopewell Valley, Sourland Mountain and Surrounding Regions of New Jersey. 

During this February, consider taking the Albert E. Hinds Memorial Walking Tour, “African American Life in Princeton.” This self-guided tour leads visitors to more than three dozen historic sites in the town’s original Black neighborhood, the Witherspoon Jackson neighborhood. Commemorative plaques installed at the sites explain the historical significance.

Also, consider visiting the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum. The museum is open for tours by appointment only. It's currently located in Skillman at the National Historic Register-listed Mt. Zion AME Church, 189 Hollow Road. The church was organized in 1866. Mt. Zion AME was listed to the National Register of Historic Places on June 7, 2021. It was listed to the New Jersey Register of Historic Places on October 18, 2018. Email info@ssaamuseum.org for updated availability of the museum and planned activities. 

During 2022, Black History Month at SSAAM was honored through a series of free, online programs celebrating African American history, culture, music and food. Programs were released each week in February, free to the public, and remain available on SSAAM's website and YouTube channel.

Five Ways To Personally Commemorate Black History Month:

  1. Support Black-owned businesses.
  2. Learn about noteworthy Black figures and their contributions to American society and history.
  3. Donate to charities that support equity and equality.
  4. Purchase, read and share books by Black authors.
  5. Participate in online events during the monthlong observation.

For example, throughout the month of February, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture offers a range of virtual events and conversations that affirm and preserve the accomplishments of African Americans throughout history.