Time to Abolish the Farce of Black History Month

By Monifa, Akilah | Black History Bulletin, January-June 2002 | Go to article overview

Time to Abolish the Farce of Black History Month


Monifa, Akilah, Black History Bulletin


What began as a gentle reminder that African American history is part of American history has grown into an opportunity to sell more goods. Worse, some clearly feel that paying some attention in this one month excuses a complete lack of attention in the other 11 months of the year. PNS commentator Akilah Monifa is a writer who lives in Oakland, California.

Black History Month has turned into a mundane, meaningless and commercialized farce.

The celebration was started in 1926 by the educator Carter G. Woodson as "Negro History Week." Woodson selected a week in February because that is the birth month of two heroes, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

Woodson's purpose was to recognize the importance of black history to America. He never intended the celebration to continue.

Woodson "fervently hoped that soon the history of African Americans would become an integral part of American history and would be observed throughout the year," according to historian John Hope Franklin, "... down to his death in 1950, he continued to express the hope that Negro History Week would outlive its usefulness."

Instead, in 1976 Negro History Week became Black History Month. Many in the media take notice of this month, giving token nods by publishing articles about African Americans and airing special programs and movies. Museums and libraries hold special exhibits, lectures and events. And of course there are the omnipresent parades and food festivals.

As Lynn Elber, the Associated Press television writer recently wrote: "television barely dips a toe into the breadth and depth of black experience, so some amends are made in February."

Amends is the word. Black History Month has become a ready-made excuse to ignore African American history for the other 11 months of the year. It's little more than a bone to throw to us, not amends enough.

Our evolving story should be told--it cannot just be bottled up and packaged in the shortest month of the year (or any other month for that matter).

At a 1998 symposium on the value of Black History Month, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education noted that it has become a "marketing weapon" allowing advertisers and book publishers to boost sales and then abandon them for the remainder of the year. …

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Time to Abolish the Farce of Black History Month
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