Why Black History Month? It Helped Cultivate American History

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), February 28, 2003 | Go to article overview

Why Black History Month? It Helped Cultivate American History


Byline: Michael Durnil

Every February, I find myself amazed by people who ask the question, "Why do we celebrate Black History Month?"

As an institution of higher education, it's the responsibility of all colleges and universities to offer students the opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to develop a broad appreciation and respect for all races, cultures and their contributions to the global society.

When Carter G. Woodson, a black educator and historian, proposed the idea for a Negro History Week some 80 years ago, the idea was to diminish the distortion of black history.

In short, there was more to Black History than slavery. In his view, increasing the knowledge of African-American history would, "besides building self-esteem among blacks, help eliminate prejudice among whites."

Today, the observance and celebration of black history has expanded to the entire month of February.

February has historical significance because such African- American pioneers as Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Eubie Blake all have birthdays in this month, while the NAACP and the first Pan African Congress were founded in February. The first African American senator, Hiram Revels, took the oath of office in February 1870.

The "celebration" of Black History Month in the 21st century includes lectures, exhibitions, banquets and other "cultural" activities. But is this enough to acknowledge a history that shapes America? Black History Month is a time for understanding that African-American culture has shaped and ultimately defined American culture. It's about recognizing that even through prejudice, legalized oppression and other forms of discrimination, black Americans overcome, excel and contribute to our society.

When Africans were first taken by force and transported to the New World in 1619, everything they held dear was taken from them - their families, their language, their freedom. Out of this painful struggle that marked the beginnings of slavery, and the multitude of others that followed over the next 350 years or so, grew a rich and emotion-filled heritage of music, literature, cuisine and art - in short, a culture that is distinctly African in its roots and American in its presentation.

To celebrate black history is to acknowledge and understand the accomplishments of black inventors, explorers, scientists, architects, abolitionists, religious and civil rights leaders, chefs, politicians, artists, writers, entertainers and musicians. …

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