A growing share of congressional lawmakers have taken to social media each February to commemorate Black History Month, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of their Facebook and Twitter activity. Nearly two-in-three members of Congress (64%) mentioned Black History Month on Facebook or Twitter in February 2021, up from just 29% in 2015.
Previous research by the Center has found that Democratic lawmakers are more likely than Republicans to mention the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on social media. The new analysis finds that Democrats are also more likely than their GOP counterparts to discuss Black History Month on social media.
In every year since 2016, a majority of congressional Democrats have published Facebook or Twitter posts recognizing Black History Month. That share increased by 9 percentage points between 2020 and 2021, with 91% of Democratic lawmakers doing so last February. By contrast, fewer than half of congressional Republicans have mentioned Black History Month in each year since 2015. But that share has also risen substantially over that time period, including an increase from 29% to 36% between 2020 and 2021.
This post examines how members of Congress use social media to discuss Black History Month, which is commemorated every February. To conduct this analysis, Pew Research Center collected every Facebook post and tweet created by every voting member of Congress each February from 2015 to 2021. The analysis includes members’ official, campaign and personal accounts.
Lawmaker posts were classified as mentioning Black History Month if the text of the post included the phrases “Black History” or “Black History Month,” or if it used the hashtag #BlackHistoryMonth. For posts mentioning Black History Month in 2020 and 2021, the Center used a text analysis technique known as Named Entity Recognition (NER) to identify the people lawmakers mentioned in these posts. Here is the detailed methodology for this analysis.
Black members of Congress have produced a sizable share of such posts in recent years. While Black lawmakers have accounted for 9% of members of Congress in the last two years, they accounted for a combined 35% of members’ posts mentioning Black History Month in February 2020 and 2021. Black members of Congress are overwhelmingly Democrats.
When it comes to the specific language used in lawmakers’ posts about Black History Month, “celebrate” and “honor” have been two of the most commonly used substantive terms. Each word has appeared in 19% of such posts since 2015. Other common terms include “civil rights” (used in 12% of posts), “justice” (10%) and “equality” (8%).
In addition to examining the terms used in lawmakers’ posts about Black History Month, Pew Research Center identified the individuals, both historical and contemporary, who were referenced by the largest number of lawmakers in these posts. In both February 2020 and February 2021, civil rights icon Rosa Parks was the single most-mentioned individual in lawmaker posts about Black History Month: 40 lawmakers mentioned Parks in this context in 2020 and 41 did so in 2021. Individuals appearing in the top 10 in both years also included the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, and Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman in Congress.
Other historical figures have been mentioned in these posts in response to recent events. For instance, NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson – who died on Feb. 24, 2020 – was the third most-mentioned figure in February 2020. And in 2021, the most-mentioned figures included Kamala Harris, who had recently been elected vice president, and John Lewis, a civil rights leader and member of Congress who had died in July 2020.
Members of Congress also differ by party when it comes to which individuals they have mentioned in their social media posts honoring Black History Month. Many of these contemporary or historical figures, for example, have been mentioned more by Democratic members than by Republican members. This includes references to individuals killed by police and whose deaths helped set in motion the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, such as George Floyd (referenced by six Democrats and no Republicans in posts about Black History Month in February 2021) and Breonna Taylor (mentioned by three Democrats and no Republicans that month).
Republicans, in turn, have often referenced Reconstruction-era Black politicians who served in Congress as Republicans, such as Hiram Revels (mentioned in 2020) and Joseph Rainey (in 2021). GOP lawmakers have also referenced contemporary conservative political or legal figures who are Black. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, for example, was mentioned by six Republican members of Congress in posts about Black History Month in February 2020 and February 2021 combined, but by no Democrats.
This analysis focuses on individuals who are mentioned in posts specific to Black History Month. But many of these individuals are also discussed in more general contexts. In February 2020 and February 2021, for instance, the Black Americans mentioned by the largest share of congressional lawmakers – in any context – included prominent contemporary political figures such as Barack Obama and Kamala Harris, as well as people appearing prominently in discussions at the time, such as Katherine Johnson, Emmett Till (memorialized in the Emmett Till Antilynching Act that was passed by the House of Representatives in February 2020) or Tuskegee Airman Charles McGee (honored in the 2020 State of the Union Address).
Note: Here is the detailed methodology for this analysis.