By the time you read this, we will have turned the page on February 2021 and thus turned the page on Black History Month. Once thought of as essential and necessary, many, including African Americans, have begun to question its need. Some point to the fact that Black History is celebrated in the shortest month of the year, and this somehow diminishes its relevance. Others say that Black history is American history and should be taught and celebrated in classrooms across American year-round.
In seeking to answer whether Black History Month is still needed, perhaps we should examine its origins. Carter G. Woodson is universally recognized as the Father of Black History and subsequently the Father of Black History Month. He was born in Virginia on Dec. 19, 1875, during the Reconstruction Era. Born to parents who were former slaves, who could neither read nor write, Woodson would go on to be a well-known scholar, graduating from the University of Chicago and earning a Ph.D. from Harvard University.
Upon noticing the absence of African Americans and their many contributions to American society within the American history curriculums, he sought to do something about it. His first effort to remedy this was in co-founding the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, Inc., on Sept. 9, 1915. This organization’s role was to inform the public of the prosperous and numerous contributions of African Americans towards the formation of the United States. Woodson also began publishing The Journal of Negro History in 1916 and The Negro History Bulletin in 1937. Perhaps one of his most outstanding achievements toward the advancement of Black history was the creation of Associated Publishers, Inc., in 1921. The Associated Publishers provided a desperately needed avenue for Black scholars, both men and women, to tell African American history.
Perhaps his crowning achievement was publishing the seminal work, The Mis-Education of the Negro, in 1933. It is an incredible work that sought to both educate society as to the value of African Americans and critique a system designed to conceal African American accomplishments. This scholarly work sought to dispel the racial stereotypes that painted African Americans as nothing more than former slaves. More importantly, this book was aimed at the African American youth –– the readers he felt needed this knowledge more than anyone to become productive citizens.
The primary audience of this book contradicts what many felt and still feel about Black history, that Black history is for society as a whole. Yes, Black History Month is designed for all of America, but most importantly, it is designed for the African-American youth. So, until school curriculums begin to portray the vast contributions of African Americans accurately, beyond the cotton fields of slavery, beyond Dr. King’s I Have a Dream Speech, beyond Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat, and beyond the first African American President Barack Obama, Black History Month, will still be needed.