• Siscoy Curry

The Importance of Black History Month

Black History Month is the annual celebration of African American history, innovations, and achievements. Currently, it is celebrated for the entire month of February with special events and redesigned school curriculums. In the beginning, the idea of Black History Month was met with many adversaries such as politicians who fought against the idea. The appointment of Black History Month began in the United States in 1976 and has spread to other countries since then.

In the early 1900s Black history was not part of the American school curriculum. Black people across the country had a lack of identity and were unaware of their history and the achievements of people in their communities. Carter G. Woodson, a distinguished Black author, began advocating for Black people to learn their history so that they can become better members of society and knowledgeable about the standings of the country. Born from slave parents, Woodson worked to learn about his history from a young age and went to earn a Ph.D. in history at Harvard University in 1912. He is known as one of the first to study the African diaspora, which included African American history. On February 7, 1926, Woodson began the celebration of Negro History Week.

As an honorary member of Omega Phi, one of the oldest Black fraternities, Woodson convinced the organization to let the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History sponsor Negro History Week. In preparation for the event, Woodson sent brochures to schools, newspapers, journals, colleges, and other places promoting ideas on ways to celebrate and the Association for the study of Negro Life and History would continue this tradition. Each year, the second week of February was observed as Negro History Week. Woodson chose this week to honor the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. They set an annual theme that was portrayed through costumes that depicted historical Black figures. There were numerous events such as banquets, performances, lectures, and much more to promote Black pride and teach both Black and white people about African American history. The festivities would soon become prevalent in schools as teachers organized events and cultivated their curriculum surrounding Black history. In some schools, Negro History Clubs were formed and taught the subject of Black history year-round. From this one week, the celebration of Black history would grow.

Around the 1940s the celebration of Negro History Week began to stretch throughout the month of February. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s worked as a catalyst towards what is currently known as Black History. In the mid-1960s cultural activist, Fredrick H. Hammurabi began celebrating Negro History Month. Hammurabi used the House of Knowledge, his cultural center, to combine lessons of Black history with lessons about the African culture. As Black college students began to link their history with Africa, Negro History Week would grow into Black History Month.

Originally being a celebration solely in the Black community, Black History Month became recognized nationally. Congress passed Public Law 99-244 in 1986 recognizing February as “National Black History Month”. In President Reagan’s Presidential Proclamation 5443 he stated, “the foremost purpose of Black History Month is to make all Americans aware of this struggle for freedom and equal opportunity.” Presidential Proclamations regarding National Black History Month can be found at American Presidency Project.

Each year there is a theme attached to Black History Month. The responsibility is left up to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History who founded the tradition in 1926. The 1981 theme was Educating America: Black Universities and Colleges, Strengths and Crisis, and then in 2015 it was A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture. This year’s theme is Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity. The idea is to study and share the similarities and differences between various cultures throughout the African diaspora. It is meant to demonstrate how Black families across the nation come from similar backgrounds and share a history that binds them as one united community.

One way you can take part in Black History Month is by taking the time out to learn about Black stories and events. There is a Black pioneer to be found in many different industries and institutions: poets such as Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou, writers such as Toni Morrison, the three innovative women behind NASA’s early space flights, and many more. There are stories to be found everywhere. There is an opportunity to find great Black leaders in your friends, family, and even yourself. Above all else, this month is recognizing the contributions made to society by everyday Black people.

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