Black History Month More Than a Month
Black history is more than a month. Black history is made every month. There is hardly a day that goes by when some black person does not make history.
Prior to 1927 there was not any observance of black history, nor of the accomplishments of black people. There had always been historical markers made by black people that changed the course of human history. Those events were usually whitewashed leaving the public to think that only white people had contributed to the development of civilization.
As a result of the absence of recognition, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a historian, began to observe the second week in the month of February, as Negro History week. Since the American society was segregated in those days, Negro History Week, as it was called then, did not create a stir in the white community. Outside of the Negro community, few knew that the observance was taking place.
My mom is a big proponent of Negro History. She made sure there were books and pamphlets around the house that talked about the achievements of Negroes. Sometime around the 30th anniversary of Woodson’s inaugural observance, I participated in my first Negro History Week assembly program in elementary school. I was called upon to portray George Washington Carver.
Fifteen years later, I was a student at Tuskegee Institute. I found a learning haven during lunch time in the George Washington Carver Museum. Daily, I marveled at Carver’s genius.
In 1970, there was a push by black students at Kent State University to observe Negro history for a month rather than the traditional week that Woodson set up. Also, there was a push to change the name to Black History. This push was fueled by the militancy of the emerging Black Power movement of the late 1960s led by Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure) and Charles V. Hamilton.
As is the case with most traditions, the Negro intelligentsia was reluctant to move beyond the week observance. And many did not feel it necessary or appropriate to be called black rather than Negro. In 1976 President Gerald Ford proclaimed February as Black History Month.
Just as the movement for a month long observance and name change was gaining traction, grass root members of the Negro community sought to link their American history with the African history of their descendants, thus, African American History Month was born. The term African American did not take off until Rev. Jesse Jackson ran for President in 1988.
Black History Month or African American History Month can be observed for a whole year if African Americans want it to be. It is strictly an observance established by and primarily participated in by the black community, President Ford’s proclamation notwithstanding.
However, the observance of Black History Month may be in jeopardy. Just last month the principal of the Howard University Elementary School fired several black teachers who insisted upon teaching black history. The school is located on the campus of historic Howard University, one of the nation’s oldest universities established specifically to educate descendants of former enslaved Africans in America.
Several years ago, the actor Morgan Freeman, stated he opposed the continued observance because there is no month set aside for white history, as if the white writers of history have a need to further dramatize their dominance of the historical narrative.
If Carter G. Woodson was alive today, he would probably warn:
“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”
Long live the observance of black history and long live black people’s desire for equality in pursuit of the American dream.
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist, the author of Paper puzzle and Justice in the Round. He can be contacted at haroldmichaelharvey.com.