As political and racial tensions and talks run high in America, it is a more important time now than any to recognize Black History Month. Though its origins run much further back, Black History Month has been officially celebrated since 1976.
Initially, “Negro History Week” was created by Carter G. Woodson, during the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. He felt the need to emphasize black history and achievements because, at the time, they were left out of common education, and most images of black Americans in history textbooks were discriminatory or demeaning.
This concept caught on and expanded to include the entire month of February. This was later recognized by the U.S. government under the more modern term of “Black History Month,” and came to be the celebration that it is today.
Though Woodson’s complaints were noted and curricula were improved upon, the prevalence of black history as common knowledge is still lacking. This is why Black History Month is still necessary as time to honor and celebrate the achievements of black Americans that have all too often been neglected, ignored and suppressed.
We probably all remember the research projects, lectures and videos that we saw during Black History Month in elementary school, and even high school. We learned that black Americans’ contributions to society are far more prolific and underrated than we once thought.
It’s important to note that our lives would be very different without the contributions of genius African Americans, even if their achievements are not wildly publicized and noted. Imagine life without blood banks, hairbrushes or refrigerators. These would not exist as we know them today without black inventors, such as Lyda Newman, Charles Drew and Frederick McKinley Jones, and we owe them recognition and a place in history.
Though their contribution is definitely notable, there is far more to black accomplishment than the history book tales of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. though. We could write endless books on countless influential black individuals, but even this doesn’t reach far enough to fully encompass the importance of Black History Month.
Black History Month is also about the nameless and anonymous black figures who whose legacy will never reach newspaper headlines. It acknowledges the slaves who died unjustly, the civil rights marchers who were reduced to just a face in the crowd and the current protestors whose names are rarely reported.
These people are history, and they have shaped America and the world as it is today. It is important that we include these figures in our thoughts and discussions throughout this month and throughout the whole year.
SHU community discusses social justice at MLK program