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Black History Month and Washington County

What began as an exhibit in Chicago in 1915 marking the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation has since transformed into a month-long celebration of Black history.

Carter G. Woodson was so inspired by the exhibit that he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization to promote the scientific study of Black life and history. Woodson then founded the Journal of Negro History in 1916 where those findings could be published. By 1926, Woodson announced Negro History Week in February 1926.

According to the ASNLH website, Woodson chose February for reasons of tradition and reform. It is commonly said that Woodson selected February to encompass the birthdays of two great Americans who played a prominent role in shaping Black history, namely Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. 

Since Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, the Black community, along with other Republicans, had been celebrating the fallen president’s birthday. And since the late 1890s, Black communities across the country had been celebrating Douglass’. Well aware of the pre-existing celebrations, Woodson built Negro History Week around traditional days of commemorating the Black past. 

Woodson was asking the public to extend their study of Black history, not to create a new tradition. In doing so, he increased his chances for success. Every president, both Democrat and Republican, since 1976 has issued proclamations which endorse February as Black History Month.

Washington County is a place of rich African American history. Most well-known among the community is TJ Roulhac, a distinguished Black educator who became the Supervisor of Black Schools in Washington County in 1913. The Roulhac School opened in 1936 and was named in his honor, and he served as the school’s first principal. 

In 1968, the school was desegregated and became the junior high/middle school for the Chipley area. When the new middle school was built the old school was later turned into the TJ Roulhac Enrichment and Activity Center which is used to educate, employ and empower the next generation.

Churches have long been a part of the landscape of Washington County but Moss Hill United Methodist Church has the distinction of being the oldest unaltered building in the county. Built in 1857 by church members, the church is said to be one of the best examples of frontier church architecture in the nation. Many of the planks hold the hand and fingerprints of the workers while some of the ceiling planks show bare footprints of children. The church is located just three miles southwest of Vernon.

In 2018, Chipley City Council elected Tracy Andrews as mayor. Andrews was the first Black councilwoman and mayor in the city’s history; however, Leedell Kennedy was elected the first Black mayor in 2012. 

Washington County School District is hosting programs to commemorate Black History Month. The programs are as follows: Vernon Middle School on Feb. 9 at 9 a.m.; Vernon High School on Feb. 24 at 9 a.m.; WAVE on Feb. 27 at 9 a.m.; Roulhac Middle School on Feb. 28 at 8:30 a.m.; and Chipley High School on Feb. 28 at noon.

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