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Black History Month and The Y

YMCA of Greater Kansas City
February 19, 2019
Carter G. Woodson
Carter G. Woodson

Did you know that the YMCA has a long-running history with Black History Month? It’s true! In fact, in 1926, historian and professor Carter G. Woodson came up with the idea of Negro History Week during a meeting at a YMCA in Chicago. 

Woodson was inspired by a 50th-anniversary party that celebrated the Emancipation Proclamation that he attended in 1915. He went on to form the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History which met at the Wabash YMCA in Chicago. 

The celebration started out as Negro History and Literature Week, then became known as Negro Achievement Week, and later Negro History Week. This week-long event became a month-long celebration, known now as Black History Month, in 1976.

Many people wonder why February was chosen as the month that would represent black history. Woodson chose February because a couple of people who played a big role in black history have birthdays in the month. The first one being Abraham Lincoln and the second being Frederick Douglass.

Here are some other moments in which the Y was involved in the making of Black History: 

FIRST YMCA FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS

One of the first YMCAs was also one of the first African American organizations in our country. In 1853 in Washington DC, the first YMCA for African Americans was founded by Anthony Bowen, a freed slave.

FOUNDATION OF THE NEGRO BASEBALL LEAGUES

In 1920, a group of African American baseball team owners led by Andrew "Rube" Foster met at the Paseo YMCA here in Kansas City and formed the Negro National League, the first successful organized black baseball league. The building is now home to the Buck O'Neil Education and Research Center, hosted by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

FIRST LADY ANNOUNCES 'LET'S MOVE' AT THE Y

In 2010, as First Lady, Michelle Obama launched the pillars of her “Let’s Move Outside” campaign against childhood obesity at the Alexandria YMCA, a branch of the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington. This helped position the Y as an important ally in preventing chronic disease throughout the nation.

FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN CEO OF THE YMCA

Kevin Washington is the first African American President and CEO of the YMCA of the United States. He is a 38-year YMCA professional and has been an advocate and champion for equity and diversity throughout his career. 

For more detailed information on the contributions of African Americans to the Y movement, check out A Brief History of the YMCA and African American Communities