When Harvard-educated historian, author and journalist Carter G. Woodson and the organization he founded—the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH)—conceived of the idea of Negro History Week in 1925, the goal was simply to raise awareness of African American contributions to civilization in order to begin to eliminate prejudice. The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. According to an article by Howard University Professor Daryl Michael Scott, the response, at the time, was overwhelming: Black history clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive Whites—not simply White scholars and philanthropists—stepped forward to endorse the effort.

By the time of Woodson’s death in 1950, Negro History Week had become a central part of African American life and substantial progress had been made in encouraging more Americans to appreciate the celebration. At mid century, mayors of cities nationwide issued proclamations noting Negro History Week.

According to Scott, the Black awakening of the 1960s also dramatically expanded the consciousness of African Americans about the importance of Black history, and the Civil Rights Movement focused Americans of all colors on the subject of the contributions of African Americans to the nation’s history and culture.

The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation’s bicentennial. President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

That year, 50 years after the first celebration, the association held the first African American History Month event. By that time, the entire nation had come to recognize the importance of Black history in the drama of the American story. Since then each American president has issued African American History Month proclamations and the association—now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH)—continues to promote the study of Black history all year.

Locally in February, thousands of students, particularly elementary youngsters, descend on public libraries with lists and project assignment sheets in hand seeking help.

This year, Rose Mitchell, curator of the Los Angeles County Library system’s Black Resource Center located at the A.C. Bilbrew branch provided assistance to a laundry list of people including a sorority helping the Palos Verdes Library mount a Black History Month display, as well as countless students, teachers and churches.

But what stood out most this year in Mitchell’s mind was the efforts of a young Latina student from Whittier High School who came to research the immortal songbird Billie Holiday.

“She was going to portray Billie Holiday, and we looked for images. I gave her the DVD ‘Lady Sings the Blues’; gave her books on Billie Holiday and images on how she could portray her in front of class,” said Mitchell.

Something else that Mitchell noticed this year is that there has been a greater variety of Black achievers that students are researching.

“If you leave it up to the kids, they pick the same people. But now I am seeing students with lists of people that [are] very diverse and does not include people that everyone knows,” Mitchell said.

Closer to home, the Compton Unified School District (CSUD) passed a resolution on Feb. 10 that encouraged all of its schools to “commemorate this occasions with appropriate instructional activities.”

Over the years, Compton schools have featured programs including marching in a Mardi Gras-style parade (2012).

Also in 2012, noted choreographer and dancer Debbie Allen, led more than 200 students from different schools—McKinley Elementary, Whaley Middle, along with Chavez and Dominguez highs—in learning dance steps ranging from Jazz to tap and modern.

The next year, Compton High offered a Black history program that featured the school’s dance ensemble performing an African routine and the Black Scholars With a Purpose-UMOJA Drama team’s rendition of Maya Angelou’s “And Still I Rise.”

According to Mark Marshall, Ed.D., Superintendent of the Eastside Union School District in Lancaster, which encompasses four elementary schools and one middle school, no school is required to teach Black history; what is taught relies on what teachers offer. In his district, principals send information on what they are teaching to his office, and if necessary, he or his staff will offer suggestions and ideas. This year, among the activities his schools will offer are a speech contest at Tierra Bonita encompassing the theme “A Better Tomorrow.”

In general, according the California Common Core standards, in fifth grade students learn about the battle for slave versus free states in the lesson plan/unit “United States History and Geography: Making a New Nation.” In sixth to eighth grade it is recommended that students read the “Adventures of Tom Sawyer” which is set in the Ante-bellum South and features information about life in slavery. Students also can read such titles as the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave,” and “Harriet Tubman, Conductor of the Underground Railroad.”

In grades nine and 10, pupils are required to read the “Gettysburg Address,” and “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the 11th and 12th grades, recommended reading includes “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neal Hurston, “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry and “Black Boy” by Richard Wright.

In addition, the California African American Museum features Black history that aligns to the Common Core standards on its website.

California is lucky enough to be among the few states required by law to teach Black history in public schools.

According to educator Duane Campbell, African American, Native American, and Latino students view history with a special dislike. He said they also learn history especially poorly.

As a consequence of the outdated framework, Campbell writes that most schools fail to teach an accurate, complete, history of the Chicano-Latino people and of Asian Americans. This essentially means that the writers are choosing not to recognize reality–not to tell the full story. This a problem created in part by the failure to revise the history/social science framework.

Textbooks for California schools are selected by the State Board of Education based upon recommendations of their curriculum committees and the state frameworks and standards. Campbell said it is urgent that the History-Social Science Framework be revised to provide an accurate history of the contributions of Mexicans, Mexican Americans, Latinos and Asians to the history of the state and of the nation.

While teaching California students about Black history has gotten better and other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, devote a month to celebrating Black history, Superintendent Marshall says, “there is definitely room for improvement.”