Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Black History is American History

By Elmetra Patterson
C:\Users\Elmetra Patterswon\Pictures\CArter G. Woodson 2.jpg
Carter G. Woodson, Founder of Black History Month

Some might ask why celebrate Black History Month?  Real historians would tell them because most American History books include very little about the life, history and culture of African Americans. Prior to 1915, little was known about the African American in music, art, literature, science and education. It was universally believed that Africans and people of African descent had played no role in the development of civilization in American or in other parts of the world. Now, a century later many around the world know about the prominence achieved by African Americans, as well as other people of African descent.

Since 1915, history is changing because black scholars, artists, athletes, and leaders used their talents to change how the world views African Americans. According to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), “The New Negro of the post-World War I era made modernity their own and gave the world a cornucopia of cultural gifts, including jazz, poetry based on the black vernacular, and an appreciation of African art. African American athletes dominated individual and team sports transforming baseball, track-and-field, football, boxing, and basketball.  In a wave of social movements, African American activism transformed race relations, challenged American foreign policy, and became the American conscience.” In keeping with tradition, the Association believes that Black history, like American history, should be studied 365 days a year.  Yet as the Founders of Black History Month, ASALH continues to view February as the critical month for carrying forth the mission. The Association selects the annual theme.  This year’s
theme:  A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture.

Carter G. Woodson established Black History Week in 1926. Black History Week was celebrated in February to encompass the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two giants in the history of African Americans.  Lincoln, of course, had issued the Emancipation Proclamation that moved the nation away from slavery, and Frederick Douglass had been the greatest leader of African Americans.  Symbolically, the selection of Lincoln's and Douglass' birthdays as the week to study Black history reflected Woodson's belief that the history of African Americans was American history.  In 1976, fifty years after the first celebration, the Association held the first Black History Month. By this time, the entire nation had come to recognize the importance of Black history in the drama of the American story.  Since then all American presidents, Republicans and Democrats alike have issued Black History Month
Proclamations.  (see President Obama’s in a separate article)

Oftentimes individuals are given credit for the extensive research that has been done in the last century about the Black history, life and culture, however, this research is the result of many institutions that gave directions to this research – The National Urban League being one of those institutions.  There is the Schomburg Research Center in Black Culture and Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center whose mission is to preserve black history.  There are now Black museums throughout the country.  Black Studies Departments and Black Student Unions were started at colleges and universities as a result of the student movements in the 60s with a focus on Black History.