Black History Month – Remembering What We Barely Know
February has been designated Black History Month in the United States since 1976. Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019, edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain was published two weeks ago. A brilliant compendium of historical accounts, short stories, essays and poetry from 90 writers each focusing on a segment of the 400 years of African American life. Not part of this compendium but could have been is Amanda Gorman’s poem “In This Place” documenting so many recent events in Black American life that none of us should never forget.
The Atlantic is posting many stories of American history, Black life, and the resilience of memory in its February 2021 “Inheritance” project designed to excavate lost Black history to better understand Black identity and culture today, stories like A Forgotten Black Founding Father.
And on the way to celebrating the richness of these resources for recovering memories of resilience, a brief celebrating the history of Black History Month from my friend Lynn Robinson:
Celebrating the History of Black History Month by Lynn Robinson
In our lifetimes, we’ve come to know the month of February as Black History Month. Themed TV documentaries, art exhibits, videos and webinars, movies, theater, magazines and books are increasingly available to inspire, educate and motivate. But how did Black History month begin? And what was its original motive?
After participating in the 50th anniversary celebration of Emancipation Proclamation in 1915 Chicago, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the second Black man to graduate from Harvard with a PhD. realized that there was a need and indeed an avid interest in knowing and celebrating Black Art, Literature and history. Dr. Woodson would work tirelessly with colleagues to create what began as “Negro history and literature week” in 1924.
In 1926, with the intent of popularizing and creating greater knowledge about the past, “Negro History and Literature Week” turned into “Negro History week”. Dr. Woodson believed that, through knowledge of one’s history, people could find pride, be inspired to greater achievements and find models in those that preceded them.
The month of February was chosen because two heroes – Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln – were born in that month.
The 1920’s saw the Harlem Renaissance, a time when Black culture, arts, businesses and education flourished. History was being made and played, and having documentation and celebration of the present and past must be chronicled for future generations.
As early as 1940, Black History celebrations began to spread over the entire month of February. By the 1960’s, along with the Civil Rights movement, Black History Month began to take hold in earnest.
In 1976 ASALH (Association for the Study of African American Life and History, founded by Dr. Woodson) saw to it that Black History Week was institutionalized as Black History Month. Ever since then, every president has endorsed it and each year more and more offerings are available, many interactive.
Black History Month gives us pause to reflect on the tremendous accomplishments, inventions, culture, art and music of people from the African Diaspora; not to mention the hardships that have been and continue to be overcome.
Let Black History Month call you to learn a history that you didn’t learn about in school. A new perspective of a rich culture that was left out of history books. Let yourself be awed by creativity, by the scientific, philosophic and spiritual leaders and the resilient community from which they emerged. Stretch yourself, you will not be disappointed. Here are just a few places to begin: