Dr. Carter G. Woodson created Negro History Week back in 1926, when he was living in Washington, D.C. Negro History Week was originally celebrated during the 2nd week in February, in recognition of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays. Dr. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History promoted the week in order to counteract the inaccurate portrayals of Black people that were common in the news, school textbooks and within the scholarly community.
Twenty years after the death of Dr. Woodson, in 1950, Black students and administrators, at Kent State University, felt Black history was still important and took it upon themselves to shine the spotlight on it for an entire month. Black History Month was put on the official calendar of the university in 1969 by Dean Milton Wilson, thus becoming Dean Wilson’s brainchild. However, it was Dr. Edward W. Crosby who gave birth to it and presented it to the world. From the start he knew it was insufficient. For a good 20 years the bulletin board in the Center of Pan-African Culture at Kent was emblazoned with the motto, “Blackness not for a month, but for a lifetime!!!”
Black identity has been an issue ever since first contact with White people in Southern Europe, over 2,000 years ago. All kinds of words have been used to describe African people. Typically, these names were related to the dark skin of the African peoples of the world. To this day Black people are variously described as Ethiopians, Negroes, Colored people, people of color, Niggers, Negritos, Moors, Sudanese and Black. When Negro History Week was created the word Negro, Spanish for black, was considered to be a radical term that people fought to have capitalized. By the 1960’s Negro was considered to be out of fashion. Up until the 60’s calling someone Black was as bad as calling them a nigger is today.
When Black History Month was first celebrated it was radical, because it not only expanded the length of the celebration, it also embraced what up until that point had been the most obvious trait and in some ways the most hated feature of African people.
The story of the first Black History Month celebration has never been told before. Even though Black History Month has gone far beyond the walls of Kent State University. It’s found on every calendar produced in the U.S. and is even celebrated internationally. Nearly 50 years after the 1st celebration Black History Month is still controversial. The validity of Black History Month, it’s relevance; even it’s placement in February, the shortest month of the year, have all been called into question.
Many people question its celebration in February, the shortest month of the year? Some feel that Black History should be celebrated every day; while others question why celebrate it at all, because Black History is American history, or is it? I’m sure if Dr. Woodson were alive he’d agree with some of these arguments. Yes, Black History should be celebrated every day, but in the world we live in that has yet to happen. Even though school textbooks mention the contributions of African people, here and abroad, more and more; teachers often do not feel comfortable with the material and skip over those sections of the books, altogether. Forty eight years after the 1st Black History Month was celebrated, Black history is still nothing more than a footnote, an add on, a jumble of interesting facts and notable dates in American history, as opposed to a staple in elementary/secondary curriculum. Today, Black history month is often no more than a celebration of the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King, with little to no mention of the contributions of others, before, during or after the 1960’s. Even the best case scenario limits Black History Month presentations to mention of some standard bearers that have long since died and can no longer speak for themselves; like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. Funnily, the truth is there’s much more to Black history that has yet to be unearthed and rediscovered than could be placed in any one textbook.