I remember when I was in seventh grade (year 2002) walking outside the African Studies Club classroom. The Black History Month assignment was to write a short essay about who were the students’ Black role models. On the wall were pictures of Martin Luther King Jr., Oprah, Tiger Woods, and Michael Jordan. All the students in the club managed to pick the same four people – one is the most famous Civil Rights Icon, one is a billionaire talk-show host, and the other two are athletes. I thought the purpose of Black History Month was to show Black children how Blacks have been contributing to the United States’ history for hundreds of years, not the past decade in sports.
Carter Godwin Woodson. (Wikipedia)
Black History Month began in 1926 when Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced that the second week of February was to be Negro History Week because it marked the birthday of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Woodson’s purpose was to show the Black youth that they should be proud of their skin color and to show White society that Black people have contributed to American History. Woodson hoped that one day Negro History Week would be eliminated when Black History became fundamental to American History. Instead, Black History week became a whole month; meanwhile Hispanics were granted September/October, Native Americans received November, Asian and Pacific Islanders attained May, Gays and Lesbians acquired June, and Women obtained March. Instead of making sure that minority groups’ History was incorporated into American History in schools, the American government awarded each minority group one whole month to educate society about why its group is important. As a woman, I can say it takes more than one month to celebrate all the women throughout history. I am not the only critic of minority months, each February Black People criticize the month dedicated to them and their history. “Like college honorary degrees conferred on blacks and renaming streets in inner city neighborhoods for African-American heroes, Black History Month, in the opinion of many, is simply a guilt-driven public relations scam to pacify blacks,” says Earl Ofari Hutchinson, President of the National Alliance for Positive Action. “You’re going to relegate my history to a month. I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history,” says actor Morgan Freeman. Instead of creating months for every heritage/gender/sexual orientation in the world, the government should make sure that the public school teachers are teaching all of America’s history.
Growing up, Black History Month to me meant that television channels would show 30-second clip on a famous Black person. Luckily, February was not the only time I learned about famous Black people; I learned about Black History throughout the whole school year. In elementary school I was taught about Civil Rights Heroes Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, and inventor George Washington Carver. In Middle School I was taught about the slave trade, slavery in the South, the Civil War, and Harriet Tubman’s role in the Underground Railroad. In High School English I read literature from W.E.B. Du Bois, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Alex Haley, and Maya Angelou. In High School History, I was taught about the slave Dred Scott vs. Sandford. Today I am still learning about Black History: I saw Maya Angelou speak at my college, I recently read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and last month while visiting Thomas Edison’s Winter Home, I learned about Edison’s Black assistant, Lewis Latimer, who helped him create a better light bulb, later becoming a patent consultant to law firms. Due to my experiences in the public school system, I believe Woodson’s goal of intertwining Black History with American History was successful, a reason why Black History Month is no longer needed.
The four girls killed in the Church bombing (Clockwise from top left, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair) (Wikipedia)
I learned about History not from a month but from my teachers, my books, my travels, my experiences – by my wanting to learn about it. I went to the same school as the African Studies Club members did, yet I could list more Black role models than their whole club could. The teachers are teaching the students about Black History, but do the students realize how important it is? Children need to realize how important it is to know where they came from, as Marcus Garvey said “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Instead of showing 30 second clips on famous Black people on television every February, society should be talking about how to get the younger generation interested in Black History throughout the whole year. It could be as simple as just suggesting that they read “Roots” or “I know Why the Caged Bird Sings” to learn about Black History. Maybe they need to read old newspaper articles online about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing to see how bad it was in South in the 1960s (victims are shown to the right). Maybe parents just need to sit down and talk to their children about important Black Historical Figures, such as athletes Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson, whom led the way for all the current Black athletes.
Though I was taught about Black History throughout the school year, there are schools out there that do not stress the importance of Blacks in American History. Instead of society letting Black History month teach the students, parents should be contacting the schools about why Black History is not being taught throughout the year or the parents should teach their children themselves. In fact, all parents should be keeping an eye on their children’s school curriculum since there are schools across the country cutting all history classes since several politicians and educators don’t believe history is useful in a math/science world. This means children are not learning about Black History, Native American History, Women History, and even White Men History. At the pace America is heading, even America is going to need its own month to teach children why its history is important…one measly month.
“Black History Month: Education or Tokenism?” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 3 (1994): 30-31. Print.