Artists, Writers Wish Black History More Than Yearly Focus

Article excerpt

Byline: CHARLIE PATTON

Recently, Tina McElroy Ansa, the best-selling novelist who lives on St. Simons Island, took a phone call from a school principal inviting her to speak to an assembly.

She'd be happy to do it. Just not this month.

Each February, black artists and writers like Ansa are flooded with similar invitations. And each February, she worries about the message sent to children when accomplished African-Americans show up at their schools in February, then disappear for the rest of the year.

"I feel like it says to them, 'It's February; it's time to talk about black people,' " Ansa said. "There are 12 months. Let's spread it out."

There doesn't seem to be much argument that Carter G. Woodson, a black writer with a doctorate in history from Harvard, filled a glaring need when he established Negro History Week in February 1926. It became Black History Month 50 years later.

He chose February because that is the birth month of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Over the last 30 years, the news media, schools, libraries and other organizations concerned with history and culture have focused on African-Americans each February.

Filmmaker Keith Beauchamp, whose documentary, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, helped reopen an investigation in the brutal murder of the black teenager in 1955, looks forward to the day when Black History Month is no longer necessary.

"Black history is American history, and it should be celebrated all year long," he said.

But that day isn't here yet, he said.

Carolyn Williams, associate professor of history at the University of North Florida, says there is a lot still to be learned about African-American history and that Black History Month still plays a vital function in assuring that attention must be paid. …