US President Barack Obama greeted hundreds of guests in the East Room of the White House on 18 February including civil rights leaders to celebrate Black History Month, calling on individuals to honour African American history with an eye to guiding the future.

"We are so proud to honour this rich heritage, but Black History Month shouldn't be treated as though it is somehow separate from our collective American history, or somehow just boiled down to a compilation of greatest hits from the march on Washington or from some of our sports heroes. Now, there are well-meaning attempts to do that all around us from classrooms to corporate ad campaigns but we know that this should be more than just a commemoration of particular events," Obama said.

"It's about the lived, shared experience of all African Americans, high and low, famous and obscure, and how those experiences have shaped and challenged and ultimately strengthened America. It's about taking an unvarnished look at the past so we can create a better future. It's a reminder of where we as a country have been so we know where to go," Obama said.

Obama told attendees it was essential to see themselves as part of the political process and to remain active in their communities.

"Supreme Court appointments are important, but ultimately everything comes down to the constant perseverance, the courage, the tenacity of citizens like you, making sure not only you exercise your right to vote, but that in between elections you are part of a constant movement in your local communities, or at the national level or at the international level to bring about the kind of change from which all of us in this room have benefited because of the labours of somebody that came before us," Obama said.

Black History Month is celebrated in February in many public schools and government entities across the United States.