As of late, there has been a slew of controversy surrounding the “issue” of Black History Month and its importance to American society today. Just recently, Actress Stacey Dash came under fire for her blatant remarks against Black History Month and various events that celebrated Black culture. She is not the only one to address the issue, as there are countless others who believe that Black History should now be embedded in all of American history, thereby making this particular moment obsolete.
The history of BHM (Black History Month) dates back to 1915. Carter G. Woodson, a graduate from Harvard, and other researchers formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History as a means of sharing with others the many contributions of African Americans. At the time, thousands of Black Americans traveled to Chicago, Illinois to participate in the annual celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation. At one such event, Dr. Woodson created an exhibit that showcased the work of Black Americans from the past. As thousands awaited to view the display, Woodson realized that he and others should create an organization wholly devoted to studying the science of Black life and their history. By February of 1926, Negro History Week was born.
What’s interesting about Dr. Woodson’s vision of Black History is that while many people focus on the incredibly feats of certain great men and women, Woodson believed that Black History should encompass the accomplishments of the Negro race. In other words, rather than focusing exclusively on men like Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, both of whom were born in February, Black History would include the stories of “the people.”
Plans for organizing Black History Week immediately took place, and ultimately resulted in national attention. Schools in various cities and states began implementing Black History Week into their classrooms. Before long, publishing houses began creating content exclusive to the Week. As with all “popular” events, people began exploiting the opportunity to gain recognition as an expert on Black History. This, in fact, bothered Woodson, because his aim was to empower the minds of Black individuals, and not to see others make a profit off of their History.
By the 1960s, as Black Consciousness continued to rise, Black History Week quickly emerged into Black History Month. But is this what Woodson envisioned? Like many other “critiques” of Black History Month—those like Stacey Dash and Morgan Freeman—Dr. Woodson believed that the history of African Americans could not be confined to one week, or even one month. Rather, he believed that Black History should be encompassed in all of history, in other words, an annual occurrence. This, I believe, is the same argument that both Dash and Freeman contend. They are not advocating for the total removal of the history of Black Americans. Rather, they argue that it should not be something completely separate from American history. Why? Because Black people are Americans.
Understanding Woodson’s philosophy regarding Black History Month certainly opened my eyes to this month-long celebration. We have to question ourselves critically and analyze whether advocates like Dash and Freeman are truly onto something. How much more enriching would our history classes be if we inculcated the history of Black Americans into general education? What if we proposed the removal of separate ethnic studies in order to embed one’s history within the set themes of American history? In my estimation, that would truly embody a revolution in education, one that would remove barriers and encapsulate the truth behind Dr. Woodson’s vision of Black History. Rather than attacking such advocates for their opinions and beliefs, perhaps we ought to conduct our own research to determine how current “trends” and “traditions” actually limit our possibilities.
What do you think? Should we eliminate Black History Month, and press towards an annual acknowledgment of the contributions of African Americans within mainstream education? Leave your comments below.
To read more, visit “The Origins of Black History Month” today.
And as always, let's grow together!
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