Here’s what you might not know about Black History Month, in 3 minutes or less.
This month is Black History Month. It’s actually the 95th celebration, depending on how you count. Yes, that’s what I said, nearly 100 years of celebrating Black history.
And yet...what’s your knowledge base of Black women and men of historical note? In addition to women's contribution to history that I learned nothing about, I learned very little about Black history in school. My exposure was limited to oh, maybe Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and George Washington Carver. And I’m not entirely clear that I learned about them in school. So, I got a little curious about how Black History month came to be, and I was surprised to learn that it started so early - its inception was in the roaring 20s! I thought you might be interested too.
This blog post is dedicated to the who, what, and why of Black History month, and ways you might observe over the course of the month. I think you will agree that 2021 is truly the year for us all to get on board with Black History.
In 1915, just fifty years after slavery was abolished, Carter G. Woodson, a Black, Harvard trained historian first had the idea for a Negro History Week to honor the historical contributions and achievements of people of African ancestry. It’s worth noting that Woodson was born to freed enslaved people. This was a man of vision.
In 1926, the first Negro History Week is celebrated. And the response from scholars, schools and students is enthusiastic. 1926! So, that great idea took over 10 years.
Fun Fact, why February? In 1926, the second week in February was chosen to celebrate “Negro History Week” because President Lincoln’s birthday and Frederick Douglass’ accepted birthday both occur that week.
In North America, we honor Black History month in February, but, did you know that it’s also celebrated in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom? In those countries, it’s celebrated in October.
In 1976, President Ford expanded the celebration from one week to one month. Fifty years after the first Negro History Week, we celebrated the first African American History Month. While I remember this, because I was a junior in high school, I think educators were caught flatfooted. I don’t recall a giant change in the curriculum. Shocking.
Every year, ASALH (Association for the Study of African American Life and History) the founding organization for Black History month assigns a theme for the celebration. For 2021 the theme is “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity” which explores the African diaspora, and the spread of Black families across the United States.
Here is a list of all the previous themes. Just reviewing this list is a history lesson in itself. From 1928 to 1967, it was Negros in history. Then from 1968 through 1993, it was Afro Americans and then African Americans in 1997 through 2005. And now, Black. Reading that, I remember Colorful, a song sung by Sammy Davis Jr. in the Broadway musical Golden Boy from 1964. The last line is “Black suits me best”. Love that song and that whole score. It was crazy progressive for 1964.
Count on Oprah to put Black History, history makers, and Black Hollywood at your fingertips: Oprah Magazine - Black History Month
Antiracist Daily encourages us to “Honor Black History month with action”. I love this notion to not just review history, but to be in action. I invite you to participate with me in the 28 Days of Black History, a daily curated guide of works that exemplify the Black legacy. The first work goes out tonight. Sign up here: 28daysofblackhistory.com. Be in action by participating and sharing your new knowledge.
I said I would talk about the Why of Black History month. I believe we need to have a month to notice black history makers until our public education consists of more than white patriarchal history. When Amy’s daughter was five, our families attended a Pride parade together. At some point, she asked what kind of parade was this? Amy told her that it was a parade to celebrate all the families that had two mommy’s or two daddy’s. She took that in thoughtfully, and then asked, why do we need a parade to celebrate those families? That’s how I feel about Black History month. We need it until it’s part of our accepted shared history, until it’s as common knowledge as the Holocaust, the moon landing and Einstein’s theory of relativity.
I hope you’ll join Amy and me in celebrating the hell out of Black History month - and share it back!
Let’s be good ancestors.