I do not remember. being a white student in a predominately white small town in Ohio, ever celebrating Black History Month. February was a time to recognize President’s Day when I was growing up. We did not learn much at all about African Americans who had contributed to the history of our country. However, the idea of dedicating a month to celebrating African Americans has been long in the making.
In 1915 historian and author Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Dr. Woodson initiated the first Negro History Week in February 1926. He picked this week because it included the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Dougalss, two key figures in the history of African Americans.
President Ford, in 1975, issued a message on the Observance of Black History Week urging all Americans to “recognize the important contribution made to our nation’s life and culture by black citizens.” Then in 1976 the commemoration of black history in the United States was expanded by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History to the whole month and President Ford issued the first message on the observance of Black History Month.
1986 saw the passage of Public Law 99-244 by Congress which designated February 1986 as “National Black (Afro-American) History Month.” This law noted that February 1, 1986 would “Mark the beginning of the sixtieth annual public and private salute to Black History.” The law further directed the President to issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe February 1986 as Black History Month with the appropriate ceremonies and activities. President Regan issued Presidential Proclamation 5443 which proclaimed that “the foremost purpose of Black History Month is to make all Americans aware of this struggle for freedom and equal opportunity.” This proclamation stated further that this month was a time “to celebrate the many achievements of African Americans in every field, from science and the arts to politics and religion.”
The 1619 Project was launched in August of 2019, on the 400th year anniversary of slavery in the United States. This initiative, started by The New York Times Magazine, aims to reframe our country’s history by “putting the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative. You can find the link to this project here:
Why do we need to celebrate Black History Month? This is a question we wrestle with in the podcast. We reference a Morgan Freeman interview on 60 Minutes from 11 years ago. Here is a link to that interview:
In response to this question and Freeman’s conversation, is this quote from Dr. Lonnie G. Bunch III, the Director of Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture:
“I would suggest that you can tell a great deal about a people, a country by what it deems important
enough to remember, what they built monuments to celebrate, what graces a country’s museums or
what holidays they embrace. Yet I would argue that we learn even more about a country by what it
chooses to forget, what it cloaks in silence. Nowhere is this silence more deafening then when countries
are confronted with the issue of slavery and the slave trade.”
So, the need for Black History Month exists still because we still do not have a true representation in our history books of slavery in our country and all the contributions made by African Americans in this country.
Take a listen to the podcast as we discuss this and much more. Please give us a like, follow and share and leave us your comments.