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Black History Month and The Y

YMCA of Greater Kansas City
February 2, 2021
Carter G. Woodson
Carter G. Woodson

Did you know that Black History Month has roots associated with the YMCA? In 1915, Carter G. Woodson, a University of Chicago alumnus, arrived in Chicago to attend a national celebration of the 50th anniversary of emancipation sponsored by the state of Illinois.

Inspired by this three-week celebration where thousands of African Americans had travelled from across the country to see exhibits that highlighted the progress of their people since the end of slavery, Woodson met at the Wabash Avenue YMCA in Chicago with a small group and formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). This began the foundation that would create Negro History and Literature Week, renamed Negro Achievement Week, later Negro History Week and eventually Black History Month.

Known as the “Father of Black History,” Woodson wanted the study of past black life to have significant impact stating, “We are going back to that beautiful history and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements.” It is important to note that the focus of Black History month has been on black achievements since enslavement in the US, however, Woodson’s intent was to explore modern black history as a starting point to deeper exploration beyond the arrival of enslaved Africans in the Americas.

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