The YMCA and Black History Month

Did you know there is a connection between the YMCA and Black History Month?

Carter G. Woodson and the YMCA

Carter G. Woodson

Carter G. Woodson was an American historian, author, and journalist who dedicated his life to educating African Americans about the achievements and contributions of their ancestors. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Chicago and still had many friends there. In 1915, he travelled from his home in Washington, D.C. to attend a celebration in Chicago and visit with them.

According to an article written by the YMCA of Greater Kansas City, in 1915, Carter G. Woodson arrived in Chicago to attend a celebration of the 50th anniversary of emancipation of Black Americans. The three-week celebration included exhibits which highlighted the progress their people had made since the end of slavery. After the event, Woodson and a small group of people met at the Wabash Avenue YMCA. From that meeting, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) which would later become the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) was formed.

Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH)

From the event, Woodson was inspired to do more in the spirit of celebrating Black history and heritage. He and minister Jesse E. Moorland founded this organization to research and promote the achievements by Black Americans and other peoples of African descent. Woodson’s hope was that he and other Black intellectuals would publish their findings in a journal he created called The Journal of Negro History later renamed The Journal of African American History.

Wanting to share and celebrate their research, this group created Negro History and Literature Week. Knowing that the study of Black History could not be confined to a week, Woodson began to expand the public celebration into a longer event which became Black History Month fifty years later in 1976.

2023 Theme – Black Resistance

The annual themes started as weekly themes for Negro History week to bring focus to certain parts of the black experience, but not limit the scope of the research. This year’s theme is Black Resistance.

After the discussion we had earlier this month on what sparked the diversity conversation, the theme seems pretty appropriate. According to the ASALH website, this theme goes to their historic and ongoing oppression that they are facing and resisting.

  • Black faith organizations were spaces where Black Americans could come together and organize their resistance, organize people who wanted to be involved and give sanctuary to people who needed protection. One person who used her writing and publishing skills and created publications against lynching in Memphis was Ida B. Wells-Barnett.
  • Cultural Centers also worked to support the intellectual development of communities to collect and preserve the stories and achievements of Black Americans. They also sponsored many literature events and were active in seeking civil, social and human rights.
  • And in many other ways

Through our discussion of diversity so far this quarter, we see that battling this oppression is a challenge that people of color are taking on, in their quest for inclusion in our country.

Black History Month Continues

Every year, we celebrate Black History Month to pay tribute to generations of Black Americans who struggled with adversity to gain full citizenship in American society. The formation of Black History Month put these achievements on a national stage for all to learn about and celebrate. And it was thanks to a meeting that happened at the Wabash Avenue YMCA in 1915.

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