Black History Month is the annual celebration of the achievements and contribution of African Americans to the history of the United States celebrated in February of each year. This celebration evolved from the work of noted Harvard graduate and historian Carter G Woodson and his colleague Jesse E Moorland both of whom formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH 1915). In 1926 the group initiated the national Negro History Week to be celebrated during the second week of February paying homage to the birthdays of both Fredrick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. It was not long before the celebration was adopted by many groups and colleges all across the United States. As the civil rights movement grew in the 1960’s, along with black awareness and empowerment, Negro history week became far more pivotal in its purpose. Eventually it evolved into a month long celebration that was officially recognized in 1976 by the white house and then president Gerald Ford. Since then it has been adopted by many nations all across the world.
When Woodson initiated ASNLH and Negro History Week, his intention had never been for the celebration to become a permanent fixture in the American culture. His intention was to use it as a vehicle to bridge the gap between the two dominant races who at the time, had a great tension between them, some 50 plus years after slavery ended. Also, it was intended to mend the reputation of the Negro people who history had painted as lazy, unintelligent and nonproductive members of society. It was his hope that by teaching both races about the African contribution to world history and particularly American history that it would inspire African Americans to assimilate better into the society and might foster a better relationship between both races. Most importantly, his goal was that in due time the necessity for Black History Month would die as it gave way for the incorporation of more African history into text books and the school curriculum. It is sad to say that in all aspects it has failed.
Although I understand the spirit behind the creation of Black History Month, in my mind, it has failed to live up to its fullest potential. One of the biggest threats to us African Americans is the limited and damaging history of our people taught in schools. A history that says we began at slavery and the highlight of our past is the civil rights movement. If black history month was intended to expand upon that history, it has failed. Year after year the same old documentaries and films about civil rights and slavery are repeated, only acting to reinforce the very same information in the texts that maintains the status quo and image of black people.
Black History Month exposes nothing of our history and culture prior to being brought here on slave ships. It does not highlight our centuries of contribution in medicine, geography and engineering for example or show how our discoveries have helped to inspire modern technologies and medicine. Furthermore it speaks nothing of the contemporary and ongoing contributions of people of African descent all across the world who have contributed to world history and are still doing so. Essentially, in order to make a lasting and impactful change in how the African diaspora view themselves and how we are viewed by others. We need to provide real and comprehensive information about our role in history. Black History Month in effect needs to be extensively revamped.