Image courtesy of University of Oregon
By Krista Cascio
Each February, we as a nation celebrate the lives of the African-American heroes who have paved the way for young African-Americans to grow up in a world where they feel accepted and appreciated. This month also serves to preserve the history of the people that it is representing. This month is Black History Month.
As quoted by historical figure Carter G. Woodson, “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”
Originally, in 1926, the United States celebrated “Negro Week” during the second week of February, initially coined by Carter G. Woodson with the help of his foundation the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH), that still exists today. The second week of February was chosen to celebrate in honor of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas who, both prominent abolishers of slavery, and both with Birthdays during this week on the 12th and 14th, respectively, according to the ASALH. Black communities celebrated these dates on their own accord starting in the late 19th century.
From 1916 through 2001, The Journal of African-American History, founded by Woodson, recorded and published major events within African-American communities and events that would impact their futures.
Though the first celebration of “Negro Week” wasn’t welcomed too warmly, according to The Journal of African-American History, it slowly started to gain traction.
Around 1929, the public became more spirited in the celebration of “Negro Week”, evoking the creation of Black History Clubs, peaking the interest of teachers, progressive white citizens and congress officials supporting the holiday.
As stated in the Journal, the event was regarded by Woodson as “one of the most fortunate steps ever taken by the Association.”
Black History Month is celebrated not only in the United States, but in the United Kingdom and Canada as well.
The Journal also notes that as of 1976, the United States was the first country to officially recognize the full month of February as Black History Month. Followed 10 years later by the United Kingdom in 1987, Canada in 1995, and finally Republic of Ireland in 2014, making it the fourth country to officially recognize the full month of February as Black History Month.
Woodson passed away in 1950, making him unable to see the young African-Americans that he and the ASALH empowered as they went on to become essential historical figures, some of which include, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcolm X.
He wouldn’t live to see the change they brought forth nor would he live see the events that they organized, the ground they stood, or their persistence and resilience in the fight to be integrated into society.
Woodson is a key reason why we have a chance to celebrate black history as he made being black in America something to be proud of.
Unfortunately, Black History Month still doesn’t go without criticism.
“You’re going to relegate my history to a month?” said actor and director Morgan Freeman during a 60 Minutes interview in 2005.
Though many school systems have integrated ‘Black history’ as a part of the curriculum with literature, Freeman points out that the African American protagonists in these based-off-of- true-events literatures are often underrepresented.
“I don’t want a black history month,” said Freeman. “Black history is American history.”
We celebrate Black History Month to remember the accomplishments of black ancestors in a time where they were discredited. During this month we celebrate the distance we’ve come as a society, we empower our African American friends and family to fight for equal opportunity. As a human race we work to be gracious and unite.