Black History Month is Still Relevant
All month I have been racking my brain for what to write for Black History Month. I felt like I couldn’t capture it all. I didn’t know if I should highlight a movement or a person. I definitely didn’t want to simply define Black History Month. Suddenly I realized all of the things that I didn’t want to do and what I was unsure of were probably necessary; unfortunately, there are some people who still don’t know why there is a need for Black History Month or why it was created.
Rather than heeding recent comments in the media saying that we should do away with Black History Month, let’s recap why it was created. It began as a one-week recognition of Black Contributions to society, called Negro History Week. Created in 1926 by historian and notable Black author Carter G. Woodson, it was celebrated during the second week of February to include Frederick Douglass’ and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays. Douglass was a runaway slave who became an abolitionist, writer and orator. Lincoln “freed” African people from slavery in America.
What started off as just a week has been pushed to a full month. It is celebrated in February, the shortest month of the year. 90 years since its inception, it is still largely celebrated by many. Social Media has been on fire with the shares and retweets of Black inventors and inventions and include #NeverForget hashtags. It’s good to know that some still hold true to Woodson’s vision to educate Black people about Black success and contributions.
NAACP.Org recorded that Woodson believed Blacks should know their past in order to participate intelligently in the affairs in our country. He strongly believed that Black History — which others have tried so diligently to erase — is a firm foundation for young Black Americans to build on in order to become productive citizens of our society. I feel it is important for young people to see people who look like them in a positive light. I also agree with Woodson. The history of a person provides identity and a sense of “rootedness” or steadfastness. It’s a “You can’t knock me down if I am firmly planted” type of deal. This year though, I’ve seen a lot of memes and statuses on Facebook explaining that Black History Month is no longer just for us “Black People.” It is also for the rest of society to learn about Blacks, or African American, people who have impacted America in a positive way. It is to share with other American people, the history we learn does not necessarily portray people of color in a positive light or that it is not all-inclusive regarding people of color. In a time where #OscarsSoWhite is trending because of the lack of diversity among nominees, I firmly believe that Black History Month is still needed.
If Black History Month celebrates racism and reinforces inequality, then where and when will African Americans be recognized by the majority for being more than just entertainers and thugs (or Superpredators, according to Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton)? It seems that mainstream America still somehow forgets about their darker colored counterparts, and they still need reminders that we, people like me, African Americans are here too and fought the good fight to be recognized equally and fairly.
Black History still hasn’t made it to the “mainstream” educational curriculum either but that’s another story for another day.
We also need to shy away from the mainstream Negroes, Blacks or African Americans like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Maya Angelou (R.I.P. to them all). No disrespect to Martin Luther King but we celebrate his life and legacy in January. Let’s stop tokenism; there are many more people who impacted society and helped in the civil rights movement than those three people. Kudos to PBS for showcasing the Black Panthers and how they really operated. Thank you for giving Huey P. Newton some of his humanity back.
Since I feel Black History Month is not only for African Americans but to educate others as well, I’d like to highlight America’s Black Holocaust Museum and the Wisconsin Black Historical Society, both located here in Milwaukee. These are two museums that are not only open during Black History Month but year-round. For Milwaukeeans curious to know how African American history in Milwaukee or Wisconsin began and evolved, these are good resources. It’s definitely an eye opener to see people who look like me, whose parents were slaves, get to freedom, overcome poverty, leave legacies and just overall be great while breaking so many barriers across the color line. Carter G. Woodson said this [time] was for us, but I believe until Black History becomes mainstream it is also an opportunity for us to teach others about us and remember where we came from. Or where we were brought from.
Waiting until the last day of Black History Month to publish this was intentional. I wanted to charge people with this: incorporate Black History as much as mainstream (white) history. If we would, then we wouldn’t need one month. Until that happens, continue to find out some things that you didn’t know about black folk outside of February. Let’s really not need to have one. After all that was a dream of Mr. Woodson.