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Black History Month

Photo of George and Barbara Henderson Accepting the Black History Month Proclamation

George and Barbara Henderson accepting the Black History Month Proclamation

Black History Month Proclamation 2012

About Black History Month

Celebrating Black History Month In February

By Isabella Gladd

Published February 01, 2008

About Black History Month

Black History Month encompasses an entire population of people that possess a unique heritage and remarkable perception of the world. History has not always been kind to African Americans and, as with other minority groups, has left out important contributions made by its members. Black History Month rectifies the oversights, whether omitted purposely or not. Learn about the controversy and celebration of the voice and character that defines what it is and was to be of African descent.

The History of Black History Month

Black history month, also called African American history month, began largely due to one man, Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Dr. Woodson found that history books lacked any mention of the accomplishments or contributions black people had made throughout their long history as Americans. In fact, the only person recognized as having contributed to the culture of the United States was George Washington Carver.

Dr. Woodson began writing black history and inserting it into the relevant pages of history. He founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, since changed to the Study of Afro-American Life and History. In 1926, Dr. Woodson initiated Negro History Week as a way to highlight the accomplishments of black people in American history.

So when is Black History Month? At first it was celebrated the second week of February to correlate with the birthdays of two men that loom large in the history of African Americans: President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The bicentennial of the United States in 1976 motivated the legislature to designate the entire month of February as a time for celebrating black history.

A timeline of history reveals more reasons to celebrate black history in February. A few of the dates follow:

* February 3, 1870, was the date that the 15th amendment passed. This amendment gave black men the right to vote.

* February 12, 1908, saw the NAACP formed by black and white citizens of New York City.

* February 1, 1960, was the date that four black college students staged a sit-in at a Woolworth’s segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Ways to Celebrate Black History Month

The idea of Black History Month is to acknowledge the contributions of Afro-Americans throughout the history of the United States. Honoring individuals as well as an entire culture of African Americans begins by learning black history. Some ideas for celebrating the month follow:

* Designate February as the month to read books written by African American authors. The haunting poetry of Maya Angelou or the raw lyrical poems by Rita Dove resonate in readers. Alice Walker’s book, The Color Purple, is a hard-to-put-down read. Search bookstores and libraries for up-and-coming African American authors.

* Learn as much as you can about the birth of the blues. The blues is a form of music based on spirituals, work songs, field hollers and chants, and ballads sung by African Americans. Listen to recordings by greats such as B. B. King or the fabulous Bessie Smith.

* Seek out a jazz bar and let the velvet songs wash over you. Get into the swing of Black History Month with the likes of Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington. Swing music sprang from jazz music, and both keep the head bobbing and toes tapping.

* Take a cooking class to learn about soul food. Soul food comes from the South, where slaves brought their food preparations from Africa into the kitchens of plantations. Fried chicken, sweet potatoes, okra, black-eyed peas, and so much more make up a table laden with soul food.

* Take a weekend excursion with your children to a museum that houses an African American exhibit. The Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, focuses on how slaves escaped and the bleak history of slavery in America. Discuss with your children the pain of racism and the importance of standing up for the rights of all people.

* Read the poetry of Langston Hughes to your children. Langston Hughes was a poet, novelist and playwright during the Harlem Renaissance. Read The Sweet and Sour Animal Book for children ages four to eight. The bookstores and libraries carry many books by Langston Hughes and biographies about the famous author that appeal to older children.

* College campuses and urban areas across the country offer lectures and special events that bring black history and ethnic diversity front and center.

* Watch a movie that resonates with the black experience. Movies to check out include: A Raisin in the Sun, Sounder, The Color Purple, Glory, or Hoop Dreams.

* Promote education during Black History Month. Develop an essay contest for specific ages and provide a topic. This is a great way for a business or company to give back to the community. Make sure children who participate receive recognition.

Black History Month Controversy

Isn’t black history a part of American history? Shouldn’t the two go hand in hand? In an interview on 60 Minutes, Morgan Freeman commented, “Black history is American history.”

Educators and speakers on both sides of the fence feel that stuffing more than 200 years of history into one month each year seems ludicrous. The preferred approach is that black history be incorporated into American history where it rightly belongs.

According to a poll taken by MSN and Zogby International, the majority of African-Americans – 64 percent – see Black History Month as a way to raise awareness and highlight the historical significance and accomplishments of black people. Proponents of the celebration liken Black History Month to Independence Day, asking if we are any less patriotic the rest of year because we celebrate on July 4th. Varying views continue to keep Black History Month somewhat controversial.

Focusing on the history, culture and accomplishments of African Americans makes up for a lost time when events and people were dismissed as unimportant. Learning about the history of the United States through slavery, freedom and a changing people helps everyone better understand the country called the United States of America.

Black History Month presents a time for reflection on past wrongs and moving forward toward ever more equality. Teaching today’s children the importance of diversity and the joy of differing cultures makes for well-rounded adults. Take the time, not just through the month of February, but all year, every year, to share the history of the entire American population. Dr. Carter Woodson said it best: “What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice.”