BLACK HISTORY MONTH AND HISTORY
Why is it important that every year in February Black History
African American Month is celebrated? Is it that important and necessary? If so why?
Black History Month, also known as African-American History Month in America, is an annual observance in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom for remembrance of important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. It is celebrated annually in the United States and Canada in February and the United Kingdom in October.
The precursor to Black History Month was created in 1926 in the United States, when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week.” This week was chosen because it coincided with the birthday of Abraham Lincoln on February 12th and of Frederick Douglass on February 14th, both of which dates Black communities had celebrated together since the late 19th century.
The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society.
From the event’s initial phase, primary emphasis was placed on encouraging the coordinated teaching of the history of American blacks in the nation’s public schools. The first Negro History Week was met with a lukewarm response, gaining the cooperation of the Departments of Education of the states of North Carolina, Delaware, and West Virginia as well as the city school administrations of Baltimore and Washington, DC. Despite this far from universal acceptance, the event was nevertheless regarded by Woodson as “one of the most fortunate steps ever taken by the Association,” and plans for a repeat of the event on an annual basis continued apace.
At the time of Negro History Week’s launch Woodson contended that the teaching of black history was essential to ensure the physical and intellectual survival of the race within broader society:
“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. The America Indian left no continuous record. He did not appreciate the value of tradition; and where is he today? The Hebrew keenly appreciated the value of tradition, as is attested by the Bible itself. In spite of worldwide persecution, therefore, he is a great factor in our civilization.”
By 1929 The Journal of Negro History was able to note that with only two exceptions officials with the State Departments of Educations of “every state with considerable Negro population” had made the event known to that state’s teachers and distributed official literature associated with the event.” Churches also played a significant role in the distribution of literature in association with Negro History Week during this initial interval, with the pages of the mainstream and black press aiding in the publicity effort.
Negro History Week was met with enthusiastic response; it prompted the creation of black history clubs, an increase in interest among teachers, and interest from progressive whites. Negro History Week grew in popularity throughout the following decades, with mayors across the United States endorsing it as a holiday.
Black History Month
The expansion of Black History Week to Black History Month was first proposed by the leaders of the Black United Students at Kent State University in February 1969. The first celebration of the Black History Month took place at Kent State one year later, in February 1970.
In 1976 as part of the United States Bicentennial, the informal expansion of Negro History Week to Black History Month was officially recognized by the U.S. government. President Gerald Ford spoke in regards to this, urging Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Black History Month was first celebrated in the United Kingdom in 1987. This establishment of Black History Month is generally attributed to the work of Ghanaian analyst Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, as well as the Greater London Council.
In 1995, after a motion by politician Jean Augustine, Canada’s House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month and honor Black Canadians. In 2008, Senator Donald Oliver moved to have the Senate officially recognize Black History Month, which was unanimously approved.
Black History Month sparks an annual debate about the continued usefulness and fairness of a designated month dedicated to the history of one race. Many people hold concerns about black history being delegated to a single month and the “hero worship” of some of the historical figures often recognized.
Morgan Freeman, a critic of Black History Month, said: “I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history.” Freeman also argued that there was no White History Month, because white people did not want their history relegated to just one month.
There have also been questions raised about historical accuracy. In the UK in October 2014, Black History Month distributed fact sheets which included the statement from the American organization’s research that there was a black American president (actually the President of the Constitutional Congress) in 1781-2, John Hanson, who is depicted on the back of the American $2 bill. However, this has been shown by many to be false, including Michael Imhotep of the African History Network.