The History of Black History Month

Black History Month has been a part of my life since my elementary school years. Early on, I learned about the man for whom my school was named — George Washington Carver. Other schools in our great city of Gary Indiana were similarly named: Frederick Douglass, Benjamin Banneker, Mary McLeod Bethune. My Jr. High school was even named after a local Black educator — Alfred Beckman. There was an abundance of reading material distributed to make sure we had no excuse for not knowing about our heritage. And I always looked forward to trips to the “big library” where the selection of books was more abundant.

The perceived purpose was accomplished. And I grew up knowing I was a member of a race of overcomers and achievers. Racial pride was instilled in my siblings and me as soon as we could reason. We knew Dick, Jane, and Sally were only characters in our readers. We also learned through church activities and with movies, records (audio), handout literature and the like. We had leaders in our communities who regularly demonstrated our capabilities.

Actually — and I’m telling my age when I say this — I remember when we had “Negro History Week.” Yes, we were taught about our forefathers’ contributions to society for the purpose of instilling in us the determination to do as they had and more. Some names became more memorable than others — determined only by the personality of the child. Outside of George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, and Mary McLeod Bethune, I think we gravitated toward the figures we would most emulate. That figure for me, was Phillis Wheatley. It was her love for books and reading, her writing of poetry and prose that captivated me. All I wanted to do was read and write. I knew very well the layout of every library branch in our city. Many times, I’d become so engrossed while scanning through a book that I’d sit right there and read it from cover to cover — never even needing to check it out. But I digress.

“The small gathering had a high purpose: the creation of an organization to demonstrate to the world a truth that had been everywhere assaulted–that people of African descent had contributed significantly to the making of civilization and the movement of human history.”  (excerpt from ASALH, The Founding of the Association)

Today, it’s common knowledge that Carter G. Woodson established Negro History Week from which Black History Month emerged. Four months after establishing the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), Woodson went on to publish the first issue of The Journal of Negro History. From there, the knowledge of our contributions to society have continued to grow. That association is now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) and continues to promote the knowledge of our contributions to society.

This year, in addition to the usual names and events we are taught about during Black History Month, I directed my focus to the 20th century scholars who have contributed to studies in the history of African-ancestored peoples, I began by making them the focus of my facebook page. Collectively, as of this year, they have contributed approximately 322 years to the research and teaching of African History.

  • Dr. Carter G. Woodson – 57 years
  • Dr. Ivan Van Sertima – 56 years
  • Dr. Frances Cress Welsing – 63 years
  • Dr. John Henrik Clarke – 65 years
  • Dr. Chancellor Williams – 81 years

And in keeping with the 2016 ASALH Theme for Black History Month , this year’s focus is to be Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories. This year, I have directed my focus on them as well. These grounds include, but are not limited to:

  • Kingsley Plantation
  • DuSable’s Home Site
  • Underground Railroad Depots
  • Seneca Village
  • Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church
  • The Childhood Home of Frederick Douglass
  • Mary McLeod Bethune’s home in Washington, D.C.
  • 125th Street in Harlem
  • Beale Street in Memphis
  • Sweet Auburn Avenue in Atlanta

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