The origins of Black History Month and why it is honoured in February.
Every February, the United States recognizes the contributions and sacrifices of African Americans who helped shape the country. Black History Month honours the rich cultural heritage, triumphs, and adversities that have shaped our country’s history.
The theme for this year, Black Health and Wellness, honours medical scholars and health care providers. The theme is timely as we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected minority communities and imposed unique burdens on Black health care professionals.
As executive director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University in D.C., Sarah Clarke Kaplan said, “There is no history of the United States without African American history.” She stated that the African-American experience is present in “what we think of as “American history.”
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Before that, there was Negro History Week.
Critics have long contended that Black history should be taught and celebrated all year round, not just once a year.
Carter G. Woodson, the “father of Black history,” established a period of promotion and education on Black history and culture in 1926, according to W. Martin Dulaney. Besides being a historian, he is also the ASALH president (ASALH).
Woodson envisioned a week-long commemoration to promote the collaborative teaching of Black history in public schools. He established Negro History Week in the second week of February and galvanized fellow historians through the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which he created in 1915. (ASNLH was eventually shortened to ASALH.)
The goal was not to impose constraints, but to focus and widen the nation’s consciousness.
In the subject of history, Woodson wanted to make Black history a severe topic of study,’ says Albert Broussard, an Afro-American history professor at Texas A&M.
Black History Month began in the late 1960s. Protests against racial injustice, inequality, and imperialism played a role in the transformation.
Commemorations began at colleges and institutions, with Kent State University being one of the first, says Kaplan.
President Gerald R. Ford acknowledged Black History Month at the country’s bicentennial in 1976. To celebrate the too-often overlooked achievements of Black Americans in every field of endeavour throughout our history, Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity.”
Why was Feb chosen as Black History Month?
February was chosen because it coincided with Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’s birthdays. Lincoln aided in the freedom of enslaved people, and former slave Frederick Douglass led the abolitionist movement.
Because Lincoln and Douglass were both born in February, it was typically a time when African Americans celebrated emancipation, Kaplan said. It is unknown when Douglas was born, but he came to celebrate on Feb. 14.
According to ASALH, Woodson founded Negro History Week around the two birthdays to “commemorate the black past.”
Slave-built White House sent its statement 40 years after Ford recognized Black History Month.
According to Barack Obama, Black History Month should neither be seen as an isolated event in American history nor as a showcase for the best of the March on Washington and other black sports figures.
There is a shared experience between all African Americans, he remarked.
Is Black History Month observed in other countries?
In Canada, February is the month when it occurs. During October, celebrations are held around Europe, including Britain, Ireland, and the Netherlands. After being elected to the Canadian House of Commons by an African-Canadian woman, Jean Augustine proposed a Black History Month in 1995.
During the first Black History Month in 1987, the United Kingdom focused on the history of African Americans in the United States. The study of black history in the United Kingdom has grown in popularity. It is now used to honour the contributions made by African Americans to the nation. In the United Kingdom, their mission statement reads, “dig deeper, scrutinize closer, imagine bigger.”
Every year, a new theme is introduced.
Each year, ASALH chooses a new theme for Black History Month, as Woodson did for Negro History Week.
Dulaney said this year’s Black Health and Wellness theme is especially timely as the US battles the coronavirus pandemic.
“Black people have awful health outcomes, and even the coronavirus affects us disproportionately,” Dulaney added.
As Broussard put it, “Black people and others should always honour Black history.” Because of the existing race climate, racial reckoning began following the murder of George Floyd.
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