Why Does Black History Month Even Exist?
“In celebrating Black History month, we can take satisfaction from this recent progress in the realization of ideals envisioned by our Founding Fathers,” the then U.S. government, President Gerald Ford said during a speech 1976. “But, even more than this, we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Black History Month has been celebrated annually in the U.S., Canada in February, and the United Kingdom in October and the Netherlands, where it’s also known as Black Achievement Month. The celebration began as a way to remember the important people and events in the history of the African diaspora, but too often I hear that people are wondering why Black History Month even exists?
I remember every year of history I have ever taken throughout my United States academic career. In my Kindergarten, through high school education, I sat through the same lessons. In World History, we covered the same brief glimpses that spoke about the culture and political doctrines that America had borrowed from the Greeks and Romans, after a brief look at Ancient Mesopotamia. We would fast forward to England and then jump straight into America for the remainder of the course.
U.S. History was always a continuation World History. We would hear about the same few Founding Fathers, brush over a sentence about slavery and the civil war, and barrel straight into World War I, II and the Cold War. Somewhere in-between the sentence about slavery and the end of the Cold War you would catch a sentence about Martin Luther King Jr. before the teacher spoke about the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Black History, according to our textbooks, happened in a blink of an eye, and there was nowhere else to learn about that portion of history unless you conducted research on your own or took electives about section or subjects of history in college. To this day, if they’re lucky, many elementary school-aged individuals only know about the achievements of Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, Rosa Parks, and MLK.
Although Black History aimed to redress the manner in which school in the United States failed to represent Black historical figures as anything other than slaves, we still see a lot of the same today. However, in my opinion, if we took the month away we would have nothing to at least begin the conversation with in order to address this issue.
There is no white history month because kids in the nearly every education system around the world are already hearing about white history the majority of the time. We have months like Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History Month, Asian Pacific Heritage Month, American Indian Heritage Month, Women’s History Month, and LGBT History Month because the history of these minorities is often just a sentence or two in a textbook if mentioned at all.
What started off as Negro History Week in 1926 turned in to a 28-day-long conversation starter about the side of history that is frequently passed over. It’s an opportunity for kids to be introduced to historical Black figures that they wouldn’t otherwise have been introduced to in the curriculum covered in the remaining months of the year and a chance for Black people to celebrate their story.