A Practical History: Black History Month

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Every February, people across the United States take time to remember the tragedy and honor the heroes in the history of the development of the modern African-American.  In 1926, Black historian Carter Woodson declared the second week of February “Negro History Month,” to commemorate the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Woodson’s hope was that the holiday would be eliminated when it was no longer needed; meaning that when, as a culture, it was no longer necessary to separate Black history from American history the holiday would be redundant.

In 1976 Woodson’s plan backfired when the federal government recognized the movement by Kent State University to expand Black History week to Black History month. President Ford’s statement to the American people called for a national effort to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” The enthusiasm of the nation embracing this month of reflection was immense, and the United Kingdom joined the ranks in 1987, to honor those whose lives were interrupted by the African Diaspora. Ultimately, in 1995, Canada, a nation that offered asylum to many slaves and that has played a huge part in the development of the modern Black person, joined the list of countries who celebrate February as Black history month.

February, besides being the month in which Lincoln and Douglass were born, encompasses a surprising amount of prolific events in the history of the modern Black person. W. E. B. DuBois was also born this month. In 1870 the 15th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified granting African-Americans the right to vote and, that same year, Hiram Revels became the first African-American senator. In 1909, on Lincoln’s birthday, the National Association for the Advancement of ColoredPeople (NAACP) was formed by a group of Black and White citizens in New York. Possibly the most important event in the 20th century was begun on Feb. 1, 1960, when a group of Greensboro, Nc. college students staged a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter, kick-starting the Civil Rights Movement. In more recent history, on Feb. 2, 2009, Eric Holder was confirmed by the senate as Attorney General, allowing him to become the first African-American to hold this position; the confirmation was made all the more poignant because the nomination came from the nation’s first African-American president Barack Obama.

As we celebrate Black History Month, keep an eye open for events around campus celebrating the history of African-Americans.