We celebrate Black History Month In February. Black History Month was the brainchild of Carter Woodson, the father of Black History. He chose the month when both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were born to promote the study of black history. From the beginning of Negro History Week in the 1920s, his idea grew into Black History Month. Celebrations followed worldwide. African countries were the exception. It is good this is starting to change. Woodson’s vision deserves worldwide celebration.
Why Is February Black History Month?
February is not Black History because it is the shortest month of the year!
Carter Godwin Woodson (1875-1950), a son of former slaves, is known as the “father of Black History.” Woodson was the founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life. He promoted the importance of the study and teaching of black history.
He first proposed in 1926 a Negro History Week. In the 1920s, the word “negro” was a more acceptable term. Woodson joined the National Association of Colored People (NAACP). Now we generally don’t consider either “negro” or “colored” to be proper terms. We now would say “Black History Week” or “African-American History Week.”
Woodson selected the second week of February. He was taking advantage of the fact that two celebrated figures in black history were born then. Abraham Lincoln’s birthday was on February 12th. Frederick Douglas (former slave, civil rights leader, ambassador to Haiti) was born on February 14th. What better time to encourage the study of black history?
Negro History Week became very popular. The Civil Rights Movement increased interest in black history. Many people pushed for the celebration to be a month long.
President Ford declared a Black History Month to honor our bicentennial (1976). Congress made it official in 1986, passing a Joint resolution to provide for the designation of February 1986 as “National Black (Afro-American) History Month.”
How Do We Honor Black History Month?
President Ford declared that Black History Month would “honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
We use the month to celebrate African Americans. The month is more than celebrating a few special people. Its purpose should be to obtain a complete understanding of the role of African Americans in United States history.
African Americans have played a role in our history from its beginning. They fought in the American Revolution, played a significant role in fighting for civil rights in antebellum America, and played a role in “every area of endeavor” in our history.
Black history involves a lot of hardship. It involves discrimination and the violation of fundamental human rights. Slavery and the continuing effects of racism until today. Critical Race Theory, often controversial, is one way to address these issues.
Carter Woodson supported a complete study of black history. Woodson hoped that Negro History Week involved the study of African civilizations. Black History Month was not merely about the United States. It was history as a whole.
Criticism of Black History Month
Some people criticize Black History Month because they argue that we should not divide history up into different ethnic, racial, or sexual groupings. “We are all Americans.”
The argument is that we should teach history without dividing it artificially into different groups. If we divide history in this fashion, it divides us. It also suggests that black historical figures were not part of a whole. They were separate and apart from everyone else.
The actor Morgan Freeman has expressed a similar concern. He is not a fan of “Black History Month.” He once declared: “I’ve said it before, black history is American history, they’re completely intertwined.” Freeman argued that it was a way to “ghettoize” people.
Dr. Dorothy Hines, a black woman, argued that Black History Month provides a “piecemeal” version of history. It provides a means for people, especially white people, to feel good about themselves by celebrating a narrow version of history.
Some black immigrants find it hard to celebrate Black History Month when it concerns American history they did not experience. If Black History Month, for instance, is about the path away from slavery, African immigrants might not feel part of this history.
Carter Woodson promoted a more complete vision:
Woodson’s more complete vision is appropriate.
Black History In Other Nations
Black History Month has spread to many other nations.
The United Kingdom first celebrated Black History Month in October 1987. October is a fine month for various reasons, including its importance in African culture as a harvest festival.
In 1995, Canada began celebrating Black History Month in February. Some Caribbean nations honor Black History Month in February. Latin American countries sometimes choose other times, including Costa Rica (in August) and Panama (in May), to celebrate.
Germany began celebrating Black History Month in February 1990. Germany has a sizable black community. Black History Month is a time to address several issues, including fighting racism.
Black History Month is celebrated worldwide, including in Australia.
How About Africa?
The celebration of Black History Month arose because of the need to address the study of an underaddressed area of history. The central reason was because black people were a discriminated against minority. There was not a need for a Rich White Males History Month.
We would suppose there would not be much need for Black History Month in sub-Saharan African countries other than South Africa. South Africa has a history of racism and apartheid. In some places, we might have a White History Month!
Black History Month was often only celebrated in United States embassies and the occasional study center at a university. The limited celebration of Black History Month in Africa is a missed opportunity, especially with the lack of knowledge among many Africans about black history. Carter Woodson’s comprehensive vision would benefit everyone.
A few African nations are now beginning to celebrate Black History Month. Mélina Seymour oversaw a celebration in 2020 as part of the International Decade for People of African Descent 2015-2024. Some countries that took part were Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ivory Coast, Comores, Senegal and Cameroon.
Let us hope that more nations celebrate in the future!