Quick History Of and Thoughts On 'Black History Month'

Sun Feb 16, 2014 22:26:46PM
We're a day or so past the halfway point of February, and that means Black History Month is also more than halfway through. In light of that, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on the origins of why multiple countries reserve an entire month to celebrate the history of African Americans, and cite a few popular voices out there that are either for or against the continued existence of such a global observance.

Make no mistake, I'm not an historian. Nor am I African-American. I'm simply interested in the subject and thought I would do a bit of research on the origins of Black History Month. I don't plan to get into the wide-ranging, socio-political ramifications of such a civil rights accomplishment and try to make a case one way or the other solely based on my opinion if it should exist, or not. Rather, I just want to present a few facts, maybe educate the uninitiated and put a few words down about the subject.

As for the origins of Black History Month, it all started in 1926 where it was originally known as 'Negro History Week'. Historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History came up with the idea to dedicate an entire week to the celebration and remembrance of important African-Americans in history. They picked the second week of February, as this week coincided with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas.

A few years later in 1929, most every school and public institution in the nation recognized Negro History Week, in one form or another. Popularity grew throughout the decades. And in 1969, the leaders of the Black United Students at Kent State University proposed the idea to expand the length of the remembrance and to change it's name. The following year, the university celebrated Black History Month. And in 1976, the US Bicentennial rolled around and President of the time Gerald Ford decided to officially recognize February as Black History Month. Ford was definitely for the idea. He was quoted, urging fellow Americans to, "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."

Fast forward to 1987, and the UK officially recognizes and celebrates Black History Month. In 1995, Canada adopts the tradition as well.

That's quite a history. For starters, I honestly didn't know that the United Kingdom and Canada both nationally recognize Black History Month as well. For those of you that already knew that tidbit, please forgive my ignorance. Although I wager most Americans didn't know that. It's part of being American, right? Being ignorant of other cultures? I'm just joking. Well, just poking fun more like it.

Also, I wasn't aware that the month was originally a week. Personally, I think a week is more powerful a time of remembrance. I think dedicating an entire month runs the risk of the "diminishing returns" effect. ... Damnit. I said I wouldn't give an opinion... It's not that I have anything against the tradition. I just think in the global culture of today, an entire month allows people to forget and remember too often that the entire month of February is significant to one particular idea and cause. Make sense? We're ADD is all I'm sayin'. A week would fit today's world better.

As for the popular voices for and against, I'm just going to end this with a mixed bag of links and quotes. The first link's light-hearted. One quote's philosophical. And the other is just pure celebrity opinion. But, all should add to this conversation during the month of February that has become known for decades now as Black History Month. Here you are:

The Huffington Post posted a short piece on why Black History Month is really for white people. Silly stuff, but definitely has truth to it.

Actor Morgan Freeman has been outspoken over this issue in the past. Here's one quote of his, to be taken however you like (although I do recommend clicking on the hyperlink for full context): "I don't want a black history month. Black history is American history."

And finally, there's Martin Luther King Jr. This is one of my favorite quotes by him and I think it apt to represent a positive view of Black History Month. "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
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