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The Intersection of Black History Month and President's Day

Feb 19, 2024
Black History Month Intersects President's Day

February in the United States is a month of dual significance, marked by the celebration of Black History Month and the observance of President's Day. These commemorations, though distinct in their origins and purposes, intersect in ways that offer profound reflections on the nation's history and the ongoing journey toward equality and justice.

The Genesis of Black History Month

Black History Month traces its roots to 1926 when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February as "Negro History Week." This week was chosen because it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and Frederick Douglass on February 14, both of whom were pivotal figures in African American history. The expansion of this observance to a full month came about in 1976, when President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month, urging Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."

The designation of February as Black History Month is a deliberate acknowledgment of Lincoln and Douglass's significant contributions to the African American freedom and equality movement. It serves as a period of reflection on the progress made since the abolition of slavery and the challenges that still persist in the fight against racial discrimination.

The theme for 2024’s Black History Month  is  African Americans and the Arts, which focuses on the influence African Americans have had in the fields of "visual and performing arts, literature, fashion, folklore, language, film, music, architecture, culinary and other forms of cultural expression."

The Evolution of President's Day

President's Day, initially established to honor George Washington, the nation's first president, has its origins in the 1880s. The holiday was traditionally celebrated on Washington's actual birthday, February 22, until the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1971 shifted its observance to the third Monday in February. While still officially known as Washington's Birthday, the day has informally expanded to celebrate not only Washington but also Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday falls in February, and all individuals who have served as president. This broadened perspective allows Americans to reflect on the presidential legacies that have shaped the nation, including those who played significant roles in advancing civil rights and equality.

Presidential Visit to Harrison, New Jersey

The Town of Harrison has its unique place in presidential history. In 1910 President William H. Taft visited Harrison and was given a tour of Harrison’s industrial southern end of the town.  It was President Taft that referred to Harrison as a “hive of industry whose citizens I am sure are all law aiding”.The Mayor of Harrison Joseph P. Riordan liked the slogan and with some help from the Council and Town Clerk modified it slightly to “The Bee Hive of Industry” and created a publicity campaign in the form of a “Publicity Seal” to be used by all companies in Harrison in their correspondence to create awareness of the Town of Harrison’s location and access to rail lines, waterways and roads for transportation of goods.

Intersecting Paths

The interplay between Black History Month and President's Day offers a moment to reflect on the intertwined narratives of presidential leadership and African American history. It's a time to honor the presidents who have pushed the country towards a more inclusive democracy, such as Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and Lyndon B. Johnson's signing of the Civil Rights Act, as well as to acknowledge the African Americans who have shaped the nation's history, culture, and conscience. Including Frederick Douglass who ran for President and lost and Barack Obama who ran for President and won.

As we commemorate these observances, the stories of places like Harrison, NJ, remind us of the ongoing dialogue between leadership and community, between history and progress. By celebrating both Black History Month and President's Day, we are reminded of the complex tapestry of American history and the collective effort required to weave a future of equality, justice, and unity.

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