African American Holidays & Traditions

by Kimelia Sachs ; Updated September 28, 2017

Rich customs and beliefs fill African-American holidays and traditions. Within the African culture lies a spirit of passion and pride like none other. From celebrating freedom to raising awareness of what that freedom means, African-American holidays and traditions are a significant aspect of American history.

Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a celebration lasting from December 26 to January 1, and it is a tradition of celebrating a “good harvest, life and prosperity,” according to Black History Month. The seven principles commemorated during Kwanzaa are self-determination; purpose; creativity; unity; communal work and responsibility; supportive economics; and faith. This tradition focuses on heritage appreciation and the importance of family.

Black History Month

This celebration stems from the pride associated with African heritage, recognized as far back as 1915 when Jesse Moorland co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) to increase awareness of the African-American experience. As recognition and awareness grew together, Negro History Week was established in the 1950s. In 1976, February was established as Black History Month.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

This holiday celebrates the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his contributions to the civil rights movement before his death. First celebrated in 1986, this day became a legal holiday in 1992. King was instrumental in advancing the cause of civil rights when racial tension was high in the United States. The nation observes the holiday on the third Monday in January, which is close to King’s birthday.

Juneteenth

This holiday commemorates the day slaves were set free, commemorating abolition in Texas. The date was June 19, 1865, and it is known as American Emancipation Day. It is the oldest, nationally celebrated tribute to the end of slavery. Juneteenth is an official holiday in Texas and is recognized in 29 other states.

Other Holidays

Other African-American holidays that are celebrated nationally across the country include Black Love Day, on February 15; Malcolm X Day, on the third Sunday every May; African Liberation Day, commemorated on May 25; Caribbean Heritage Month, during June; and Marcus Mosiah Garvey's Birthday (August 17). Other holidays include Harriet Tubman Day (March 10) and Edward “Duke” Ellington Day (April 29).

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