As we move into March and look back on Black History Month, I want to answer a question that keeps popping up: why do we need to celebrate Black History in America? My question is the same, but I understand the “why” and via this message, I hope you will get it as well.
In 1915, Carter Woodson helped found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and it was under this umbrella that the concept for Black history awareness was developed based upon the release of the racist film "The Birth of a Nation." A group of Black men met at a YMCA in Chicago to discuss the importance of this new movement. Mr. Woodson explained that Black Americans needed an organization that would strive for a balanced history, so, in 1916 The Journal of Negro History was produced and, 10 years later, Woodson produced a plan for a week of activities and commemorations devoted to Black American history.
In 1924, Woodson, along with his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi (an international Black fraternity of which I am a proud member), introduced Negro History and Literature Week and within two years launched Negro History Week, the predecessor to Black History Month. The sole purpose was to bring greater attention to African American history and dispel negative images of Black people. The month of February was chosen because it included the birthdays of both President Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12) and the abolitionist and formerly enslaved Frederick Douglass (Feb. 14) due to their contributions to the plight of Black people in America.
During the 1960s, it became popular to teach this segment of American History due to the Civil Rights Movement. Educators across the country started observing Negro History Week in American schools. In 1976, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (formerly known as the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History) expanded the traditional week-long celebration of Black history to a month, and Black History Month was born. That same year, President Gerald Ford urged Americans to observe Black History Month, but it was President Carter who officially recognized Black History Month in 1978. With the federal government's blessing, Black History Month became a regular event in American schools.
This history is important to bring awareness to today just as it was back in 1915 because unfortunately our Blackness is still being weaponized against us in this country.
- Another Black young working man was shot at while doing his job by white assailants.
- Another Black Man was murdered by police in Minneapolis, MN.
- 17 HBCUs (Historical Black Colleges/Universities) received bomb threats and some Black Churches as well, including my alma mater, Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.
This is just to name a few incidents that have occurred during the month of February alone.
I continue to hear that there is no racism in America, to stop using the race card (interesting because I never got mine), and that the teaching of Black history is equal to Critical Race Theory (last time I checked no K-12 school in America teaches Critical Race Theory; that is a Law School class) via social media and mainstream media outlets.
Black people, just like most Americans, want equity, inclusion, justice, and to be left alone to live freely in this country. The elevation of Black History is so greatly important because it helps to bring awareness to a people that are oppressed daily only because of our skin color, informs others of the rich contributions that Black people have made to the world, and helps to diminish negative viewpoints of Black Americans.
The country is dying under the blanket of racism, and it hurts all people at the end of the day!
Bertram L. Lawson II
President & CEO