February Marks celebration of Black History Month

19 Feb 2008 | Lance Cpl. Thomas J. Hermesman

Once again February marks the observance of Black History Month. The holiday was created by African Americans to celebrate the vast cultural heritage and African-American life and story.

 “We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice,” Carter Woodson on founding Negro History Week, 1926 (

 February was established as Black History Month in 1976. The celebration was an expansion of the Black History Week established in 1926, by Carter G. Woodson. Woodson was the president of what was the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.

 February was chosen for Black History Week and month because of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass. These men are important to black history because of Abraham Lincoln’s efforts in the civil war to free slaves and Fredrick Douglas’s efforts in anti-slavery.

 The first African-American week was celebrated mainly by members of the African- American community. Soon after, members of local and state governments, especially in the northern United States, started to endorse the observation of Black History Week. This not only helped the black community but helped the onset of interracial life.

 “Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (

 After the onset of Black History Week more and more black communities believed a week was not enough time to celebrate the heritage of the African Americans, and they began celebrating Black History Month.

 The Marine Corps also has a rich history and heritage of African American influence.

 John Martin, a slave, was the very first black man in history to enlist in the Marine Corps. Martin fought in the American Revolution; he was recruited to the Continental Service in April of 1776. Martin served on the Brig Reprisal until the ship sank in October of 1777.

 After the end of the Revolutionary war, blacks were banned from enlisting in the Marines. It was more than 160 years before another African American would enter the Marine Corps.

 At the start of WWI, Blacks were being admitted into the Army and Navy in special segregated units. President Franklin D, Roosevelt sent out an Executive Order (No. 8802) which set the standard for equal employment for all races in the Armed Forces.

 On April 7, 1942, the Secretary of the Navy announced that the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps would soon allow Blacks to enlist, and later specified that a battalion of 900 Blacks would be formed by the Marine Corps.

 This marked the beginning of black service in the Marine Corps, and helped shape and mold the strong beliefs and heritage in the Corps today.