January 25, 2015
During Black History Month, we honor and celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans who have guided our country’s growth and progress. Throughout its more than 160 years in the United States, the Y has worked to meet the changing needs of our diverse communities and provide welcoming and safe spaces where people of all backgrounds can come together to create positive social change. Along the way, the Y has been privileged to support African-American leaders who moved our country forward.
One of the first YMCAs was also one of the earliest African-American organizations in the United States. Former slave Anthony Bowen founded a black YMCA in Washington D.C. in 1853. It was the first nonchurch black institution in America at that time. In 1896, there were 60 active Ys for Black Americans, and by 1924, membership grew to 28,000 members across 160 Ys for Black Americans.
In 1911, African American educator and author Booker T. Washington was the main speaker at the YMCA’s 53rd anniversary dinner in which he praised the founding of the Wabash Y: “…This YMCA building branch for our people will come further, in my opinion, in helping the Negro young man in finding himself, to articulate himself, in its civilization, than any other movement that has been stared in the city of Chicago…”.
Black History Month has roots in the Y. In 1915, Carter G. Woodson organized the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History at the Wabash Avenue YMCA in Chicago, leading to the creation of Negro History Week in 1926 and eventually Black History Month. Today, Woodson’s group is known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, and the Wabash Avenue YMCA is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.” — Carter G. Woodson, African-American historian
Throughout the month we will share other moments in Black History involving the YMCA. To learn more about the rich history of the YMCA, visit ymca.net/history.