An Introduction to Black History Month

Writer and Graphic Designer: Anza Bintoro

Editor: Tonwaan Apiratikiat



The struggle for equality and anti-discrimination against blacks and peoples of African descent has been an issue since centuries ago and one which is still unresolved. Moreover, the value and contribution of blacks to society is often overlooked, ignored or distorted, particularly when society focuses on traditional events and achievements of white figures. However, since 1976, the U.S has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time to recognise their central role in U.S. history. Canada is the only other country which celebrates during February, whereas in Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom it is observed in October.


Half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, Black History Month began its story. September of 1915 was when the “Father of Black History” Carter G. Woodson, the son of former slaves, and prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). This was an organisation dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by black Americans and other peoples of African descent.


Known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the group sponsored a national Negro History week in 1926. The second week of February was chosen because it corresponds with the births of former President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, who fled slavery and became a key social activist. Both men have played a major role in helping bring an end to slavery. The event encouraged schools and communities around the country to organise local events, set up history clubs and host performances and lectures.


In the decades that followed, mayors of cities across the country began issuing yearly proclamations recognising Negro History Week. Eventually in the late 1960’s, thanks in part to the civil rights movement and a growing awareness of black identity, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses.


In 1975, President Gerald Ford, the 38th U.S. President, issued a message on the Observance of Black History Week, urging all Americans to "recognise the important contribution made to our nation's life and culture by black citizens". Then, in 1976, this commemoration to black history in the United States was formally celebrated as Black History Month, also known as African American History Month. During that year, President Ford issued the first message on the Observance of Black History Month, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”


Black History Month is important because black history is American history. It is not a separate subject. We highlight black history to continue to understand how black narratives are tightly integrated into the narrative of the United States as a whole. The same is true worldwide: Negro History Week was originally about reaching black children in public schools. Dr. Woodson decried what he called “the miseducation of the Negro” in schools relying on textbooks that either ignored or distorted black history with ugly racial stereotypes. This omission and distortion left both black and white children unaware of the tremendous contributions of African people to America and world civilisations across time, resulting in low self-esteem among many African Americans and the justification for racial discrimination in America. Negro History Week was a call to overcome these problems by teaching accurate and uplifting portrayals of black achievement.


Due to current COVID-19 restrictions, limits are in place on what sort of events can be held, with mass gatherings banned. This doesn’t stop Black History Month from offering everyone the opportunity to share, celebrate and appreciate the importance of black heritage and culture, and give people the opportunity to learn more about the consequences of racism and how to challenge negative stereotypes. Here are some suggestions on what you can do to celebrate Black History Month:

  • Support a Black business

  • Visit a Black History or Civil Rights Museum in your local area

  • Donate to a Black organisation

  • Host a Black film marathon

  • Wear your hair out in its natural form to school, work or a social event

  • Become a member of a Black organisation

  • Trace your family history

  • Spend time with a Black elder in your community

  • Read a book by a Black author

  • Cook a soul food meal

  • Sign up to mentor a Black child in your community

  • Donate to an HBCU

  • Attend or host a Black culture event in your community

  • Learn about an unsung hero of Black history

  • Support a Black creative (artist, poet, local musician, etc.)

  • Study the African Diaspora

  • Explore Black Music

  • Call out racism and prejudice in your community

  • Sign up to receive news from a Black organisation

  • Contribute an essay or blog to a Black media outlet

  • Support the black media, black press and the NNPA

  • Engage in healthy conversations about Black history on social media

  • Learn the lyrics to Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing

  • Read Dr. King’s I Have a Dream Speech

  • Decorate your home with Black Art

  • Read a biography of an influential Black figure

  • Write a Black children’s Book

  • Register to vote!

 

Resources

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