So, it’s Black History Month and what’s the first thing I hear in regard to it? Not a statement to appreciate what the month means, but a question.
“Why isn’t there a white history month?”
At first I was tempted to be offended, but then I thought more about it. Did I even have a true appreciation for Black History Month? What is the purpose of it anyway?
I decided to dispel my ignorance. What I discovered gave me an appreciation and a new outlook on American history.
Black History Month was established in 1926 by Harvard-educated historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson and at the time was called “Negro History Week.” So, I thought, why February, the shortest month of the year?
Well, as it turns out, both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday fall in the second week of February, so Dr. Woodson chose that week to commemorate them. Negro History Week became Black History Month in 1976, because, as President Gerald Ford said, we need to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Dr. Woodson’s original intent was not to emphasize black history but to emphasize the acheivements of blacks in history and have them appreciated at the same level of other Americans. He expands on this point by adding, “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.” So, his original purpose was not just to have a month to focus on black history.
I dug a little deeper and discovered that, as a historian, Dr. Woodson wanted the scholarly community to which he belonged to recognize the achievements of blacks in history as fairly as they did whites.
In our lives, we learn about American history all through the year, whereas black history is limited to one month. Thinking back on my pre-secondary education, I realized this to be true. The black history I learned during this time usually occurred in February. Instead of black history being presented as the integral part of American history that it is, it has been separated out by name — black history — and confined to single chapters or sections of textbooks, and for many Americans the one month of February.
Morgan Freeman takes the stance that Black History Month is no longer necessary. “I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history,” Freeman said. Taken at face value, I completely agree with his statement. Blacks have been a part of American history from the beginning — black history is American history. Black history, because it is also American history, should not be confined to just one month but taught, celebrated and commemorated all year long, just as American history is. However, even after research I have come to the conclusion that Black History Month is still necessary.
Until black history becomes fully American in our society, one month out of the year is needed. Dr. Woodson intended for Negro History Week, as it was then, to be deemed unnecessary only after black history became fundamental to American history. I agree with his decades-old stance here.
Until African Americans become just Americans, Black History Month is necessary, because that means history has not been fully integrated as it should be. African Americans — unless they were actually born in Africa — are just American. They simply have a higher percentage of melanin in their skin and an unfortunate history due to this fact.
As a side note, a person is from a country, not an entire continent. The reason black people are called African American is due to the fact that their ancestry is often unknown because of unfortunate historical events. What is known, however, is that the United States is their country of birth, and being so, they are simply American. However, since history teaches valuable lessons, it should not be forgotten. The history of blacks in the U.S. shouldn’t be forgotten or pushed away. It needs to be viewed as the American history that it truly is.
Although I have taken a stance in the debate, I do not believe that its focus is really the issue here. The focus of this debate should go from whether or not Black History Month is necessary to why black history is not celebrated as American history.
Follow Breanna Grigsby on Twitter: @Bre_Louise