Thursday, February 28, 2013

Black History Month

      Recently a friend of mine and I had a conversation about the relevance of Black History month. While trying to explain that in my opinion BHm is helpful to reinforce the teaching of Black History in schools, he then asked if we should have a White History month. I laughed pretty hard at that. As a historian I've never been shy of my opinion of "white" history; be it the misrepresentation of history through white historians or the prevalence of white history at the expense of the histories of other groups and races. Technically, every other month of the year is White History month so why publicize it by actually assigning it to only one? I'm not saying I agree with White History being so prevalent in American schools and still dominant in what history is being explored and currently published. I think that every voice throughout history should be heard without bias and without restriction. It's amazing that we consider women's history, Mexican-American history, and Native American history as being "new-ish" areas of historic exploration. These groups have been around since the beginning of "white history" but their accomplishments and events have been overshadowed by "the man." As this Black History month comes to a close, I think it's important to reflect on both what Black History month means and how much further historians must come to explore and expose the histories of groups other than white men.

     Here's some tidbits about Black History month from Wikipedia for those of you who are interested:
     Black History Month, also known as African-American History Month in America, is an annual observance in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom for remembrance of important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. It is celebrated annually in the United States[1] and Canada[2] in February and the United Kingdom[3] in October.
     Black History Month was created in 1926 in the United States, when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be "Negro History Week". This week was chosen because it marked the birthday of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Woodson created the holiday with the hope that it eventually be eliminated when black history became fundamental to American history.
     In 1976, the federal government acknowledged the expansion of Black History Week to Black History Month by the leaders of the Black United Students at Kent State University in February of 1969. The first celebration of Black History Month occurred at Kent State in February of 1970. Six years later during the bicentennial, the expansion of Negro History Week to Black History Month was recognized by the U.S. government. Gerald Ford spoke in regards to this, urging Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."
     Lastly, some people complain that Black History month attempts to separate Black history from American history but I disagree. I think that each February we are reminded to explore one facet of American history that is overshadowed the rest of the year. In a perfect world we wouldn't have to be reminded, but since that's not our reality I would rather be reminded than to let the rich history of this group of Americans be ignored.

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