Black History Month – Celebrating the Contributions of Blacks in America

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A painting dedicated to the founders of Black History Month, the Black United Students at Kent State University, by Ernie Pryor

Celebrated during the month of February, Black History Month is a time set aside to honor the contributions of African-Americans to society.

Though the people of African descent have been in the Americas dating back as far as the 16th century during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, it wasn’t until the 20th century that they were recognized enough to have a place in history.

Dr. Cater G. Woodson

After establishing the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and Journal of Negro History in 1915 and 1916 respectively, Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded Negro History Week in 1926. Woodson chose the second week in February to celebrate the contributions of black people in America. This week was also chosen as a dedication to Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two instrumental figures that had birthdays during the month. It wasn’t until 1976 that Negro history week was officially changed to Black History Month.

According to the Library of Congress, “President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” That year, fifty years after the first celebration, the association held the first African American History Month. By this time, the entire nation had come to recognize the importance of Black history in the drama of the American story.”

Debate Surrounding Black History Month

Much debate has been given to the issue of Black History Month’s relevancy. Notable figures from the African American race, as well as others question whether or not it’s fair to select an entire month to celebrate one race. Many believe that the importance of its original intent is being overshadowed by watered-down traditions. Still there are many who believe the celebration is necessary as aside from a few prominent people such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman and a small handful of others, much about the history of black people in America is unknown and most certainly not taught in schools to its full potential.

There are many people who know nothing more about black history other than the small chapter in their textbook or the latest sports figure or entertainer. As with any other culture, black history is filled with inventors, activists, educators, as well as legal and political figures, many of whom died so that generations after them would not be denied basic rights. Those who are fighting to continue black history are doing so to preserve the legacy of a people who until very recently were only recognized as 1/5 of a human.

References:

  1. The Library of Congress: February is African American History Month
  2. Elisa Henry: The History of Black History Month