Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Black History Month is celebrated every February in the United States and Canada, and every October in the United Kingdom. It is a time to honor the pivotal role of African Americans in U.S. history and remember important achievements made by African Americans throughout history.
In 1926, 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 included the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Woodson was inspired to start this week to promote the teaching of African American history in public schools. He sought to ensure that the history of African Americans would be preserved in U.S. history.
Carter G. Woodson once said, "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".
Negro History Week received an overwhelming and supportive response. Black history clubs were founded, teachers requested better teaching materials, and mayors of cities across the country began making annual proclamations recognizing Negro History Week.
In February of 1969, leaders of the Black United Students at Kent State University first proposed the expansion of Negro History Week to Black History Month. One year later, the first celebration of Black History Month took place at Kent State.
In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month, calling upon the public to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."
Controversy: Should we continue to recognize Black History Month?
In a 60 Minutes interview with Mike Wallace in 2005, actor Morgan Freeman stated, "I don't want a Black History Month. Black history is American history." This sparked a nationwide debate about the continued usefulness of designating a specific month to honor and remember African American history. Supporters of Black History Month remind the public that the original purpose of Negro History Week was not to dictate or limit African American history but to help focus the public's attention on important historical developments that merit emphasis.
Still I Rise
To conclude, here is an excerpt from a poem written by Maya Angelou, African American author and poet, that speaks to the message of Black History Month.
Excerpt from "Still I Rise":
Out of the huts of history's shame, I rise. Up from a past that's rooted in pain, I rise. I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide, Welling and swelling I bear in the tide. Leaving behind nights of terror and fear, I rise. Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear, I rise. Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise.