All about Black History Month

January 17, 2020  - by 

Since 1976, every United States president has observed Black History Month each February. This time is dedicated to celebrating African American heritage and the achievements of people of African descent. 

Starting as a week-long celebration in the 1920s, Negro History Week and Black History Month have inspired numerous events and communities over the last century. Today, museums, college campuses, government agencies, and nationwide communities rally together to recognize contributions that people of African descent have made throughout American and world history.

How will you celebrate Black History Month this year? If you have African ancestors, it is the perfect time to honor your ancestors and to learn more about your African and African American heritage. 

Search African Heritage Records

To celebrate Black History Month, FamilySearch has added 29 new record collections specifically containing information on individuals of African descent. Try finding your ancestors within these collections using the search form below!


Facts about Black History

a black family plays at the beach

There is a wealth of interesting facts about Black History Month. For example, February was chosen because it coincides with the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Did you know that every Black History Month has had a specific theme since 1976? The theme for 2020 is African Americans and the Vote.


Black History Month Activities

a black family laughs together.

Black History Month has inspired new clubs, college lectures, celebrations, and performances. There are bound to be local events near you, or you can simply take the time to learn about African American history.

Black History month isn’t just for black people; it is for everyone! Use this time to learn as much as you can about the positive contributions and legacies of many African Americans and of those of African descent. Or record and share your experiences today to expand a community of sharing and mutual understanding in the United States.


Influential African American Women

shirley chisolm in front of a board

Despite the barriers in their way, many African American women have had a significant impact on culture and history. Women such as Ida B. Wells, Ella Jo Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, and many others have left their mark and changed the world for the better.


Black History Month is for Everyone

a mixed race african american and caucasian family

The first formal celebration of black history began in 1926 as Negro History Week. It was organized by Carter G. Woodson, a historian and the second African American to earn a doctorate degree from Harvard. Woodson felt it was important to highlight the lasting contributions of black men and women in society to motivate others to rise to their potential. He noted, “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”

Black History Month provides a platform to recognize the adversity many have faced throughout history as well as to celebrate the many achievements of African Americans. As President Gerald Ford put it in 1976, Black History Month is a time to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”


Black History Month Calendar

FamilySearch and its partner, the International African American Museum (IAAM), are highlighting different African American record releases for every week of Black History Month. Check back every Monday to see the release of additional blog posts that give an overview of each of the following collections and how you can use them!

See a full schedule of the events below:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Virginia Slave Birth Index, 1853-1866
United States 1860 Census Slave Schedules  
US, Georgia — County Delayed Birth and Death Records, 1870-1960  
US, Texas, Harrison County–Delayed Birth Records, 1860-1933  
United States General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934  
Descriptive recruitment lists of volunteers for the United States Colored Troops for the State of Missouri,1863-1865 : NARA, RG94, M1894  
Alabama State Census, 1866  
Florida State Census, 1885  
South Carolina, State and Territorial Censuses, 1753–1920  
North Carolina, Voter Registration, 1868–1898  
US, Florida — Voter Registration Records, 1867–1905  
US, Texas–Voter Registration, 1867-1869
Louisiana, Orleans and St. Tammany Parish, Voter Registration Records, 1867-1905  
United States, Freedmen’s Bureau Marriages, 1861-1872
Oklahoma, School Records, 1895-1936
Virginia Funeral Programs
Virginia, Death Certificates, 1912-1987
Mississippi Enumeration of Educable Children, 1850-1892; 1908-1957
United States World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946
North Carolina, Wake County, Death Records, 1900-1909
US, South Carolina, Charleston–Birth Registers, 1901–1926
Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915  
Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1994  
New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949  
Louisiana, Orleans Parish, Birth Records, 1819–1906  
US, Alabama—County Birth Registers, 1881–1930  
Alabama Deaths and Burials, 1881-1952  
South Carolina Deaths, 1915-1965  
Tennessee, Shelby County, Memphis, Board of Health Death Records, 1848-1913  

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