Yesterday marked the beginning of Black History Month, a month of celebration, remembrance, recognition, and education. We celebrate the resilience of the Black and African American community and a journey towards freedom. We remember the atrocities, trials, and tribulations faced by those enslaved and the many injustices still experienced. We acknowledge Black excellence and the many contributions intricately woven into the nation’s fabric.
We take pause in order to learn but more importantly educate on the comprehensive history of Black and African Americans because 95 years after the creation of Negro History Week, too many Americans still lack understanding of the Black experience and its impact on our lives.
Negro History Week, which has transitioned into Black History Month, began in February of 1926; its origin story starts September of 1915. Harvard-trained historian Carter G Woodson traveled from Washing D.C. to Chicago to attend the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation. The celebration included black history displays (including Woodson’s) that nearly twelve thousand people showed up to view for several weeks.
Inspired from the celebration on September 9, 1915, Woodson meet with Minister Jesse E. Moorland, A.L. Jackson, and several others to create the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). The group set out to share the real contributions, innovations, and sacrifices of Black people not offered in school, conversation, media, or anywhere mainstream.
By 1925 Woodson was sure the organization’s mission must be creating and popularizing knowledge about the black past. He sent out a press release announcing Negro History Week in February of 1926.
Woodson and his team were very strategic in choosing February. The month of February had heroes that Americans from both the Black and White communities already celebrated: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Sharing a birthday month, the community actively celebrated Lincoln and Douglass for their contributions to the Black freedom movement. Woodson cleverly realized he would increase his chances of implementing Negro History week not by asking for something new but by bolstering something widely accepted with a simple extension of commemorating the Black past.
Seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.
Black History Month is an incredible opportunity to celebrate, but it also a responsibility to share the truth about our collective history because Black History is American history.
We should not lose sight that a week evolved into a month, and now a month must grow into the daily lived experiences of us all. As educators, we should ensure students have access to the facts and our faculty have the resources to provide them.
The Story of Black History is regularly told using a grossly naked and under explored timeline:
We owe the legacy and contributions of Black and African Americans more. We owe every American the truth. We can’t actualize the future so many dream of if we selectively refuse to recognize the aspects of our past.
Black history isn’t merely a melody of deficit and a constant struggle for justice. It is not solely a tragedy and Black people are more than enslavement. Black history begins with ancient civilizations, majestic cities, royalty, riches, and innovations that impact every culture. This Black History Month, let us agree to genuinely celebrate, remember, recognize, and educate from this day forward.