Every year on February 1st social media, corporations, classrooms, libraries, and other facets of our culture pull out obligatory quotes and images from Dr, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman and many other mainstay African American historical figures that have become the “face” of Black History in America. So much of this is pandering to the status quo and lip service as most of these organizations never make a mention about blackness, black life, or the black experience beyond the month of February.
Still, these homages proliferate and continue along with the narrative and debate as to whether Black Americans need a whole month dedicated to our collective accomplishments here in the United States and worldwide. For me, Black History Month is essential but equally essential is highlighting and giving voice and space to the voices, experiences, beauty, art, accomplishments, and achievements of Black and brown folks every day.
History of Black History Month
The story of Black History Month begins in 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. That September, the Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization 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, choosing the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The event inspired schools and communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs and host performances and lectures.
President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, 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.”
Why We Need Black History Month
For too long public education has whitewashed and quite literally omitted the true narrative of Black Africans in America and the African Diaspora. These omissions have perpetuated a very limited view and scope of how we see Black and African American people in the United States. Black History Month continues to be necessary because frankly; our accomplishments, voices, and bodies continue to be omitted from history books, co-opted by white supremacy culture, and minimized by the masses. Until this is no longer the case; we need a nationally recognized movement that honors the past accolades, inventions, and contributions of Blacks as well as moves us forward as a collective.
Even more, we continue to need white and black accomplices to buy Black, support black and recognize that Black Lives Matter in the present day since many of the injustices and omissions that created the need for a nationally recognized month continue to be needed today. For me every month is Black History Month. This fact can co-exist with recognizing and supporting the continuous need to take time and space to put a special spotlight on the accomplishments of Black and brown Americans from all ethnicities that have literally changed the course of history and yet have legacies that are not known by the masses.
This post was written by Calvin Eaton on the 540Blog where they are currently running a Black History Month campaign sharing little-known facts about Black Americans throughout history.