Black History Month 2024

A banner that says Black History Month

On behalf of Dr. Charles Flippen and the UCLA Neurology EDI Committee,

This is Black History Month! I am sharing a few words on the significance of this designation and observance of the path and contributions of this subset of Americans. I believe the observance of BHM is of particular importance this year considering recent controversies surrounding history instruction in primary, secondary and post-secondary education.

BHM was established by the American historian, Carter Godwin Woodson, PhD (1875-1950). He was the son of former slaves who, though delayed in his pursuit of education, ultimately earned advanced degrees in history from the University of Chicago (A.B., A.M.) and the second African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Excluded from the mainstream, uniformly white academic history profession, he came to realize the need to create a structure to nurture and support scholarship in Black history and Black historians. The fact the American Historical Association had no interest in Black history (a dues paying member, Woodson was not allowed to attend its conferences), and the low number of historians publishing accurate accounts of Black American life/history, motivated him to create the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915. Its purpose was to promote the “scientific study of the neglected aspects of Negro life and history” by training Black scholars in historical research methodology. An extension of this organization’s work was the publication of the scholarly Journal of Negro History in 1916. This publication has been in continuous production since its founding, renamed in 2002 the Journal of African American History. The organization and journal were initially supported by philanthropy from the Carnegie Foundation, Julius Rosenberg Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation among others.

In the wake of the “Red Summer” of 1919, a period that saw acts of white terrorism and racial riots in more than three dozen US cities resulting in over 1000 deaths of mostly Black Americans,  and the rise of Black self-consciousness expressed through the Harlem Renaissance, Woodson wanted his work to give Black Americans a history to be proud of and ensure the role of Black Americans in American history was acknowledged by white historians. In 1926 Woodson designated the second week in February as “Negro History Week” to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass. Woodson described the purpose of Negro History Week as follows:

It is not so much a Negro History Week as it is a History Week. We should emphasise 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 hatred and religious prejudice.

In 1970, Black students and faculty at Kent State University expanded the idea of Black History Week to the entire month of February. Since 1976 every US president has designated February as Black History Month.

In the words of the founder of Black History month, the activities of this month serve to strengthen the account of OUR history by focusing a lens on people and events that unfortunately, remain outside a unitary account of American and world history. This is the intent of similar types of designated recognition months. Learning and understanding history, in its totality, enables one to place current events in a context that hopefully prevents repeat of past errors, leads to culturally informed decisions, acknowledgement of all who have contributed to building our nation and have a stake in our pursuit of “a more perfect union”. It is my hope each of you will take some time during the remainder of this month to read, watch and/or listen to some media about an event, person or place that will expand your knowledge of our shared story.

Charles Flippen II, MD

Chair, UCLA Neurology EDI Committee

A few selected media suggestions:


Zora Neale Hurston: Claiming A Space. A notable key figure of the Harlem Renaissance and trained anthropologist who reclaimed, honored, and celebrated Black life on its own terms.

Racist Tree: A documentary that examines the fight in Palm Springs to remove a stand of trees regarded by Black residents as an enduring symbol of segregation and racism.

Shuttlesworth: The story of a generally lesser-known activist of the Civil Rights Movement and his fight for change.      

The Harlem Hellfighters. An insightful documentary that explores the leadership, sacrifice, and valor of the 15th National Guard, which would become a part of the 369th Infantry and one of WWI's best military regiments.


Black Patriots: Heroes of the Revolution. This gives an account of the African American experience during the Revolutionary War. Hear the story of the war within the revolution through the eyes of some of the most crucial and significant African American figures of our country's foundation including Crispus Attucks, Peter Salem, Phillis Wheatley, and James Armistead Lafayette.


Unsung African American Scientists of the Manhattan Project. This short article on the Black chemists and physicists worked as primary researchers on the team that developed the technology behind the atomic bomb.