Installment #10: Black History Month
If you grew up and went to school in the United States, then you are probably aware that the month of February is designated for Black History Month. It is the one month out of twelve where we celebrate and learn about the achievements of African-Americans in this country. February is the shortest month of the year, twenty-eight days except for leap years when there are twenty-nine. Some people are mad about that and feel that we should have more time to teach about and recognize black people's role in shaping U.S. History. Although I think that our observations of Black History Month have gotten significantly better since I was a kid, I do believe that there is always room for growth.
The story of Black History Month, also known as African-American History Month to some, begins in 1915, fifty years after the Thirteenth Amendment officially abolished slavery in the United States. In September of that year, the Virginia-born and Harvard-educated historian Carter G. Woodson, along with prominent African-American minister Jesse E. Moorland, among others, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, (ASNLH). This organization was committed to researching and promoting the achievements of African-Americans and other peoples in the African diaspora. The group, which is known today as the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History, sponsored National Negro History Week in 1926. They chose the second week in February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth U.S. President who signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and Frederick Douglass, one of the more noted black abolitionists.
National Negro History Week inspired schools, communities, and organizations nationwide to put together celebrations, establish history clubs, and host performances and lectures. By the late 1960's, due in large part to the Civil Rights Movement and a growing awareness of black identity, National Negro History Week had begun to evolve into Black History Month on many college campuses. In 1976, U.S. President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month. He urged the American public to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history. Today, Black History Month is celebrated all over the United States and even in countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom.
It is no doubt a great thing that President Ford did. He tried to bring awareness to the achievements of black Americans, and remind all of us that our beautiful and amazing history is not just limited to white America. I feel that subsequent presidents have tried to hold up this bar of recognition, but it is by no means perfect.
When I was in grade school, not only was Black History Month the shortest month, most of the content of my classes only talked about four or five individuals. Those were Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and possibly Rosa Parks. Wasn't until I got to college and became an African and African-American Studies and History double major, that I began to really learn about others. So many others. Black people built this nation as slaves and we continue to influence nearly every aspect of American culture today. We have seen things go from National Negro History Week to Black History Month. What I hope for, is black Americans and other people of color's accomplishments and achievements being recognized all the time, mixed in with the rest of U.S. history. After all, we are Americans too.