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Exploring the Evolution of Black History Month Themes: A Look Back at the Past and Present

Exploring the Evolution of Black History Month Themes: A Look Back at the Past and Present

In 1926, Carter G. Woodson established Negro History Week (which later evolved into Black History Month) and acknowledged the significance of selecting a theme to direct the public's attention towards the contributions and accomplishments of African Americans throughout history. Each year, as we observe Black History Month, a specific theme is chosen to guide the focus of the observance and highlight different aspects of the African American experience. These themes deepen our understanding of the black experience. They are also crucial in bringing to light developments achieved in the African American community.
As we approach Black History Month, it's a great time to reflect on the themes chosen over the years and understand how they shape our understanding and appreciation of African American history and culture.
In this post, we will look at the current and past themes through the years and the impact they have had on our understanding of Black history and culture. 

2023 Theme: Black Resistance 

African Americans have a long history of resistance against oppression in all forms, from the atrocities of slavery to the racial terrorism of lynching and police killings. These acts of resistance have been driven by the desire for a dignified and self-determined life in a just and democratic society. From the Civil Rights Movement to the Black Lives Matter movement, African Americans have fought tirelessly for their rights and equality, often at great personal risk. These efforts have led to progress, but the fight for justice is ongoing. We must remember and honour the legacy of resistance; and continue to work towards a more equitable society for all.


 2022 Theme: Black Health and Wellness

The theme of Black Health and Wellness for 2022 acknowledged the vital contributions of Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine but also recognized the input of other forms of knowledge and healing practices throughout the African Diaspora. From birth workers and doulas to midwives to herbalists, Black communities have long been at the forefront of developing and utilizing holistic approaches to wellness. This theme was an opportunity to honour and celebrate the diverse ways Black communities sought to be well through activities, rituals and initiatives rooted in cultural tradition. It also highlighted the need for increased representation, resources, and support for these practices in mainstream healthcare. 


 2021 Theme: The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity

The study of the Black Family has been a subject of interest across multiple fields, including history, literature, visual arts, film studies, sociology, anthropology, and social policy. Throughout history, its representation, identity, and diversity have been depicted in a wide range of ways, from reverence to stereotype to vilification. The Black family is a complex and diverse entity, shaped by centuries of oppression, yet it offers a rich tapestry of images for exploring the African American past and present. The Black family is an integral part of Black history and culture, and studying it offers valuable insights into the African American experience.  


 2020 Theme: African Americans and the Vote

The year 2020 marked a significant milestone in American history as it marked the centennial of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. It also marked the culmination of the women's suffrage movement. It also marked the sesquicentennial of the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) that granted Black men the right to vote after the Civil War. This theme spoke to the ongoing struggle for voting rights for Black men and women. Despite the progress made through these amendments, the fight for voting rights for Black citizens has been far from over. 


 2019 Theme: Black Migrations

The theme of black migrations highlighted the movement of people of African descent to new destinations and the subsequent impact on their social realities. The 2019 theme mainly focused on migration from the twentieth century to the present day. 


 2018 Theme: African Americans in Times of War 

The theme of "African Americans in Times of War" for 2018 commemorated the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War in 1918 and examined the experiences of African Americans during this international struggle and its aftermath. At the time, the First World War was referred to as "The Great War," "The War to End All Wars," and the war "to make the world safe for democracy." For African Americans, the war represented both an opportunity to serve their country and a chance to challenge the racial discrimination they faced at home. The theme explored how African Americans participated in the war effort, the challenges faced, and the impact the war had on their fight for civil rights and equality. It also examined the role of African American soldiers in shaping the nation's understanding of race and democracy. This theme highlighted the effect of war on individuals in the military and the broader African American community.


 2017 Theme: The Crisis in Black Education

The theme for 2017 focused on the vital importance of education in the history of African Americans. The founder of ASALH, Carter G. Woodson, once wrote that "if you teach the Negro that he has accomplished as much good as any other race he will aspire to equality and justice without regard to race." Woodson understood the significance of access to knowledge and the detrimental effects of persistent racial barriers to equal education. He recognized that education is not only a means of personal and professional development but also a powerful tool for social change and equality. The theme of education in the history of African Americans was an opportunity to acknowledge the struggles and achievements of Black students and educators in their pursuit of knowledge and the right to an equal education. It was also a call to action to continue to work towards dismantling the systemic barriers that prevent equal access to education for all.


 2016 Theme: Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories

The history of African Americans is deeply ingrained in the fabric of America, starting before the arrival of the Mayflower and continuing to the present day. From the port cities where Africans disembarked from slave ships to the battlefields where their descendants fought for freedom, from the colleges and universities where they pursued education to the places where they built communities during centuries of migration, the mark of Americans of African descent can be found throughout the narrative of American history. These sites serve as important reminders of the past and have become hallowed grounds over time. They remind us of the struggles, resilience and contributions of the black community throughout history. These sites are a testament to the enduring legacy of African Americans and their impact on shaping the nation.


 2015 Theme: A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture

When Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) in 1915, he believed that uncovering historical truth would dispel falsehoods and pave the way for a new era of equality, opportunity, and racial democracy. In honour of this milestone, ASALH chose "A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture" as the 2015 National Black History Month theme. It was a tribute to the achievements and contributions of African Americans throughout the past century, and a reminder of the ongoing struggles for equality and justice.


 2014 Theme: Civil Rights in America

In 2014, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) selected "Civil Rights in America" to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The history of civil rights in the United States is a story of African Americans and other people of colour fighting to define and claim their rights as citizens. It involves the advocacy and mobilization of political parties and government bodies to recognize and protect these rights through legislation. Throughout history, African American communities have formed organizations and movements to push for equal rights and justice. The theme served as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for civil rights in the United States and the importance of recognizing the contributions and sacrifices of the African American community in the fight for equality and justice.


Past Black History Month Themes Through the Years

 2013: At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington
2012: President Barack Obama National Black History Month Proclamation
2012: Black Women in American Culture and History
2011: African Americans and the Civil War
2010: The History of Black Economic Empowerment
2009: The Quest for Black Citizenship in the Americas
2008: Carter G. Woodson and the Origins of Multiculturalism
2007: From Slavery to Freedom: Africans in the Americas
2006: Celebrating Community: A Tribute to Black Fraternal, Social, and Civil Institutions
2005: The Niagara Movement: Black Protest Reborn, 1905-2005
2004: Before Brown, Beyond Boundaries: Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education
2003: The Souls of Black Folks: Centennial Reflections
2002: The Color Line Revisited: Is Racism Dead?
2001: Creating and Defining the African American Community: Family, Church Politics and Culture
2000: Heritage and Horizons: The African American Legacy and the Challenges for the 21st Century
1999: Legacy of African American Leadership for the Present and the Future
1998: Black Business
1997: African Americans and Civil Rights; a Reprisal
1996: Black Women
1995: Reflections on 1895: Douglass, Du Bois & Washington
1994: Empowering Black Americans
1993: Afro-American Scholars: Leaders, Activists and Writers
1992: African Roots Experience New Worlds, Pre-Columbus to Space Exploration
1991: Educating America: Black Universities and Colleges, Strengths and Crisis
1990: Seventy-Five Years of Scholarly Excellence: A Homage to Our Forebearers
1989: Afro Americans and Religion
1988: Constitutional Status of Afro Americans in the 21st Century
1987: Afro Americans and the Constitution from Colonial Times to the Present
1986: Afro American Experience: International Connection
1985: Afro American Family
1984: Afro Americans and Education
1983: Afro Americans in the United States
1982: Afro American Survival
1981: Black History: Role Model for Youth
1980: Heritage for America
1979: History: Torch for the future
1978: Roots, Achievements and Projections
1977: Heritage Days: The Black Perspective; the Third Century
1976: America for All Americans
1975: Fulfilling America’s Promise: Black History Month
1974: Helping America Understand
1973: Biography Illuminates the Black Experience
1972: African Art, Music, Literature; a Valuable Cultural Experience
1971: African Civilization and Culture: A Worthy Historical Background
1970: 15th Amendment and Black America in the Century (1870-1970)
1969: Changing the Afro American Image through History
1968: The Centennial of the Fourteenth Amendment Afro American History Week
1967: Negro History in the Home, School, and the Community
1966: Freedom from Racial Myths and Stereotypes Through Negro History
1965: Negro History: Freedom’s Foundation
1964: Negro History: A Basis for the New Freedom
1963: Negro History Evaluates Emancipation (1863-1963)
1962: Negro History and a New Birth of Freedom
1961: Freedom and Democracy for the Negro after 100 years (1861-1961)
1960: Strengthening America Through Education in Negro History and African Culture
1959: Negro History: A Foundation for a Proud America
1958: Negro History: A Factor in Nationalism and Internationalism
1957: Negro History
1956: Negro History in an Era of Changing Human Relations
1955: Negro History: A Contribution to America’s Intercultural Life
1954: Negro History: A Foundation for Integration
1953: Negro History and Human Relations
1952: Great Negro Educators (Teachers)
1951: Eminent Negroes in World Affairs
1950: Outstanding Moments in Negro History
1949: The Use of Spirituals in the Classroom
1948: The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth
1947: Democracy Possible only Through Brotherhood
1946: Let us Have Peace
1945: The Negro and Reconversion
1944: The Negro and the New Order
1943: The Negro in the Modern World
1942: The Negro in Democracy
1941: The Career of Frederick Douglass
1940: Negro Labor
1939: Special Achievements of the Race: Religion, Education, Business, Architecture, Engineering, Innovation, Pioneering
1938: Special Achievements of the Race: Oratory, Drama, Music, Painting, Sculpture, Science and Inventions
1937: American Negro History from the Time of Importation from Africa up to the Present Day
1936: African Background Outlined
1935: The Negro Achievements in Africa
1934: Contribution of the Negro in Poetry, in Painting, in Sculpture and in Science
1933: Ethiopia Meets Error in Truth
1932: What George Washington Bicentennial Commission Fail to Do
1931: Neglected Aspects of Negro History
1930: Significant Achievements of the Negro
1929: Possibility of Putting Negro History in the Curriculum
1928: Civilization: A World Achievement


In conclusion, Black History Month provides an opportunity to reflect on the contributions and experiences of the African American community throughout history. The themes of Black History Month have covered a wide range of topics and issues, highlighting the diversity and complexity of the African American experience. We hope this post has provided you with a deeper understanding of the themes and their significance in the broader context of Black history and culture. Please make sure to check out our other posts to learn more about important facts about Black History Month. Remember, the celebration of Black History Month is not only a time to reflect on the past but also to acknowledge the ongoing struggles and contributions of the Black community and to commit to working towards a more just and equitable society for all.



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