Black History Month History and How to Celebrate
February marks the start of Black History Month, a federally recognized celebration of the contributions African Americans have made to this country and a time to reflect on the continued struggle for racial justice.
Experts have said that understanding Black history and learning more about systemic racism is essential as our country faces backlash to civil rights activism such as the George Floyd protests.
Here’s what you need to know about Black History Month and how to celebrate appropriately:
Carter G. Woodson, born in Canton, VA is known as the “Father of Black History,” developed Black History Month. Woodson, whose parents were enslaved, was an author, historian, and the second African American to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard University.
Recognizing that the American education system offered very little information about the accomplishments of African Americans, he founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
In 1926, Woodson proposed a national week dedicated to African American History, which was intended to showcase everything students learned about Black history throughout the school year. Woodson chose the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass, a famed abolitionist who escaped from slavery, and President Abraham Lincoln, who formally abolished slavery.
It wasn’t until 1976, during the height of the civil rights movement, that President Gerald Ford expanded the week into Black History Month.
February 1st is National Freedom Day, and the anniversary of the approval of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in 1865.
The theme of Black History Month 2021 is “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity,” chosen by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Many institutions, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, offer digital programming for those celebrating at home. The NAACP offers guidance for businesses on the best way to honor Black History Month.
An associate professor of Social Studies Education named LaGarrett J. King, emphasized that educators should “teach Black history from Black perspectives.” He offered seven guiding principles for educators to explore when teaching Black history:
- Power, oppression and racism
- Black agency, perseverance and resistance
- Africa and the African diaspora
- Black joy and Black love
- Black identities – other than heterosexual, Christian, and/or middle-class Black men
- Black historical contention and the problematic aspects of Black history, and
- Black excellence
Daniel Hirschman, who’s an assistant professor of Sociology at Brown University shared that one area to focus on is getting an accurate understanding of Reconstruction,” the period after the Civil War, to help Americans better understand “contemporary forms of racialized violence like mass incarceration.” He also emphasized the importance to recognize the many ways racism is baked into America’s foundational systems.
Black History Month gives us an opportunity and reminder to learn and understand Black History- even beyond the month of February. Stay tuned to Allegheny Mountain Radio for a weekly expose on famous and influential black people and or groups, and possibly local people as well.
For AMR News, I’m Abby Dufour