Black History Month involves many different traditions, including a theme for each year, honoring Black Americans and their fight for freedom, justice and equality, celebrating Black achievements and more. Another tradition associated with this observance are the traditional Black History Month colors of black, green, red, and yellow. These colors were not chosen by random or just for their look. They have important significance and each symbolizes pride in the culture and experience of Black people. Here is the history behind the Black History Month colors and what they mean.

The History Behind the Black History Month Colors

The colors, black, green, and red are often associated with Black History Month, and represent different aspects of Black unity and pride. These Black History Month colors have historical significance in the context of the Pan-African flag and the flag of Ethiopia. The Pan-African flag was created by Marcus Garvey, Black activist and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA), in 1920.

Sydney Clark for Best Colleges explained that the Pan-African flag was created by Garvey and UNIA as a response to the anti-Black folk song “Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon.” The flag’s creation was also to unite Black Americans and the Black diaspora in the shared history of slavery, disenfranchisement, and inequality. 

What the Colors of the Pan-African Flag Represent

Garvey for UNIA wrote, “Red is the color of the blood which men must shed for their redemption and liberty; black is the color of the noble and distinguished race to which we belong; green is the color of the luxuriant vegetation of our Motherland.” For more context:

  • Red: Symbolizes the blood that unites people of African ancestry and their struggles for liberation. 
  • Black: Represents the black people and their rich heritage. 
  • Green: Symbolizes the lushness of the African continent and the hope for a better future.

Where Does Yellow Come From?

Despite not being a part of the Pan-African flag, yellow is also one of the Black History Month colors. Yellow comes from the flag of Ethiopia. Tyler D. Parry, historian and African American and African diaspora studies professor, explained that Ethiopia was an important symbol to the Black diaspora in the early twentieth century as it was the only African nation not dominated by colonialism. The country was a symbol of Black freedom. 

Parry told Seventeen, “The yellow [or gold] refers back to the Ethiopian flag, which is meaningful to people of color because Ethiopia is virtually the only country in Africa that did not experience colonialism. Thus, it has been largely independent throughout its history.” So together, all the Black History Month colors come together to represent the identity, roots, and struggle of the Black diaspora with the black, green, and red colors of the Pan-African flag, and Black independence through the yellow from the flag of Ethiopia.