Black History Month began in 1926 when Carter Woodson announced the second week of February – which celebrates the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln – to be “Negro History Week.”
Woodson’s desire was for Americans to recognize and celebrate the achievements, accomplishments and contribution of black Americans to American society.
Today, the role of Black History Month has been brought into question.
The continued acknowledgement of the same events and people, the gross limitation of 28 days and the dilution of the month’s vitality have contributed to the perceived decrease in relevance, and for some, even the desire to eliminate the month-long acknowledgment.
However, Black History Month, in spite of its inadequate representation of the historical and continued role of black Americans within America, remains necessary, especially in today’s society.
“Black History Month ensures that black Americans know their history,” said Appalachian State University senior political science major Reggie Gravely. “It lets us know where we came from, and to not revert back to being the lesser in society. It’s good for Americans – particularly black Americans – to know their history, but it’s important to know your history throughout [the year].”
The experiences of black Americans are an undeniable part of American history. However, within the various education systems, there is a tendency to limit the teaching of the black experience year-round.
A mere month-long reflection and appreciation of black history is an insufficient amount of time to acknowledge a significant part of the United States, especially when black Americans are contributing to the development and progress of the nation every day.
“Black history is American history,” said Aisha Cotton, senior child development major and Black Student Association president. “You can’t have American history without acknowledging the inclusion of black Americans. Black Americans have a strong history of building the United States, socially, economically and politically.”
Every year when the 28 days of black exceptionalism are brought to the forefront, so are the expected and typical lessons concerning high-profile civil rights leaders and events, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and the March on Washington. They are used to monolithically depict and explore the unique stories of black Americans.
However, the month neglects to address the everyday obstacles that modern black Americans are faced with overcoming, from police brutality, to institutionalized racism and socially appropriated biases amongst peers.
Black History Month has not evolved with the times and experiences of black Americans. Instead, it has remained stagnant by celebrating the things that happened decades ago, in lieu of focusing on the present day individuals who are continuing to work toward the future that their predecessors fought for and dreamt about.
Black history did not begin with slavery, and did not end with the civil rights movement. It is an on-going phenomenon that continues to happen every day.
Despite its flaws, Black History Month still warrants a place in society. To eliminate Black History Month would only play into the misconception of post-racism and create the illusion of true equality.
Until there is systematic effort by the institutions and individuals that make up this nation to incorporate, celebrate and acknowledge black history in everyday situations, the issue of miseducation and misrepresentation will continue to prevail and do a disservice to America’s rich and complicated culture.
I believe Woodson did not intend for this holiday to expand to a month long celebration. Instead, he hoped that it would eventually be eliminated, and that black history would be recognized as a fundamental and integral part of American history.
We must move forward, celebrating and fighting alongside the activists, advocates and pioneers who are driving today’s pseudo-revolutions, demanding more and never settling for less.
Ndugga, a junior journalism major from Chapel Hill, is an intern news reporter.