Hopefully, most African Americans know that February is that month of the year when we formally recognize the achievements and sacrifices of Blacks, past and present — retelling stories, honoring an ever-growing litany of individuals and remembering historic events that should never be forgotten.
Unfortunately, there are those within our community who tend to consider the month and its many scheduled programs to be more of a nuisance than a necessity. But just as the Jewish collective recounts the holocaust and renews and recounts essential moments and actions from their long history, Blacks should also be vigilant in telling and retelling our own story.
This annual celebration serves as a time to recognize the central role of Blacks in U.S. history and should serve as a reminder to all that “we [African Americans] built this country with blood, sweat and tears.”
The month, which evolved out of “Negro History Week” — the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and a cadre of other prominent Blacks — traces its roots to 1915, 50 years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the U.S., when the Harvard-trained Woodson, and the Rev. Jesse E. Moorland, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The group, now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, first began sponsoring a national Negro History week in 1926, selecting the second week of February so as to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month, with other countries, including Canada and England, also devoting a month to celebrate Black history. By the late 1960s, due in particular to the Civil Rights Movement and an increased awareness of and desire for Black identity, the week evolved into Black History Month. President Gerald Ford, in 1976, asked Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
That said, we believe that given the enormous contributions Blacks have made both to this country and to the world, it’s far time we extended our celebrations and remembrances to take place every day of the year. After all, we are still treated and viewed by the country’s dominant culture and organizations as second-class citizens. Over 300 years of struggle for equality and true access to the so-called “American dream,” we have not received full citizenship with all rights thereof.
We need to affirm our own greatness so that, with God’s grace, we will finally overcome.