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Yes, We Still Need Black History Month

| February 13, 2016

carter g woodson

Carter G. Woodson originated the idea of Black History Month with Negro History Week in 1926.

By Marc Morial

Carter G. Woodson was born in Virginia, 10 years after the fall of the Confederacy. Working as a sharecropper and a miner, he rarely had time to attend school until the age of 20.

But he sure made up for lost time. Woodson would devote the rest of his life to studying, and today he’s known as the father of African-American history.

Through his studies, Woodson wrote, he found that African-American contributions to history ”were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them.”

He concluded that racial prejudice “is merely the logical result of tradition, the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind.”

And that, he believed, had a dispiriting effect on young black people. “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history,” he observed.

Black History Month, which Woodson founded as Negro History Week in 1926, was his effort to combat that tradition. Chosen to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the second week in February was designated as a time to celebrate black history.

The first year, education officials in just three states and two cities recognized the event. But by 1929 it was being promoted in nearly every state in the nation.

In 1970, black students at Kent State University celebrated the first unofficial Black History Month. Just a few years later, in 1976, President Gerald Ford himself officially recognized the event. “In celebrating Black History Month,” Ford said, we can make “progress in the realization of the ideals envisioned by our Founding Fathers.”

And, seizing on Woodson’s efforts, he added: “Even more than this, we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

The American dream remains perilously out of reach for many people of color.

In the intervening 40 years, we’ve seen remarkable progress in racial justice — and also heartbreaking setbacks. These days there are some people in the black community— like actress Stacey Dash — who, as in Woodson’s own day, feel Black History Month is unnecessary.

And their essential point is valid: Black history is American history, and we shouldn’t relegate its teaching to one month a year. But that isn’t the point of Black History Month.

The American dream remains perilously out of reach for many people of color. The National Urban League Equality Index — a figure my organization developed as a comprehensive comparison of black America’s status in the areas of economics, health, education, social justice, and civic engagement — stands at just 72 percent.

That racial disparity won’t disappear if we simply ignore it. Justice won’t be achieved unless we actively seek it out. Black History Month not only serves as a reminder of what our forebears have achieved, but as an inspiration for the journey that remains before us.

marc morialMarc Morial is the CEO of the National Urban League. He is a former mayor of New Orleans and President of the bi-partisan U.S. Conference of Mayors,  won the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Pro Bono Publico Award for his legal service to the poor and disadvantaged. He was also one of the youngest lawyers, at age 26, to argue and win a major case before the Louisiana Supreme Court. He has been recognized as one of the 100 most influential Black Americans by Ebony Magazine, as well as one of the Top 50 Nonprofit Executives by the Nonprofit Times.

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18 Responses for “Yes, We Still Need Black History Month”

  1. Mothers Worry says:

    I wish they would teach American History.

  2. Scott says:

    Racial justice = Affirmative action…… and you preach EQUALITY?

  3. Sherry says:

    An excellent article and reminder that sadly inequality and bigotry still exists in our everyday lives. When listening to the hate filled rhetoric of some of our Presidential candidates, it seems that we are stumbling as a society when it comes to appreciating and respecting the diversity of race and religions that make the USA truly so unique and wonderful.

    It seems that there is a genuine trend in our next generations to be much more open minded and accepting of all our fellow human beings. I look forward to seeing that human evolution play out in our political reality in the next few years.

  4. DONE says:

    ya , we need black month , what about white month? we do not have songs about black panthers that kill people and no one can touch them , were are the rights for white people , now you have people killing cops and they say ok now we are even , one for one what does that mean , every were I go all I hear is , We need to stand up for our rights , every night on the news are killings and I can allways guess who it was, first you need to act like a person before you will get treated like one

  5. r&r says:

    Bravo Done!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. JonQPublik says:

    If you have always been a white, heterosexual male of Christian values, you have probably only felt one side of discrimination. You likely wouldn’t know how it feels to be hated… only to hate.

    If you have faced discrimination because of your non-white, non-heterosexual, non-male, non-Christian status, then you have every right and obligation, to bitch and moan about inequality. Do it, LOUDLY. With fervor. Raise your voice, and always take notice of others whom are discriminated against, help those that have ever been made to feel “lesser” than any one identity.

  7. r&r says:

    It sounds like insighting a riot JQ. Obama has been doing that for 7 years when he says if I were there I’d be right in there with them rioting, stealing, burnig, distroying property etc.,etc.,etc. Before Obama came on the scene I thought we were all getting along pretty good. Then he approved all this crap and now we’re stuck with it. He can’t leave soon enough.

  8. Sherry says:

    Thank you JonQPublik. You are completely correct. Those that live every day with the massive discrimination and inequality in our nation should speak out and should vote against the horrific bigots running for President, as well as Congress, Governor, and all other political offices. We need a huge change and it begins at the ballot box!

    As an open minded, white, female I am often disgusted by the hate and bigotry shown in the comments on this site. I shudder to think that such completely ignorant, racist people live in our community.

  9. Sherry says:

    @ Mothers Worry. . . surely you understand that American History IS taught every day in our schools. . . you know that, right? Surely, you are not implying that American History should NOT include the contributions and sacrifices of African Americans . . surely, you are not that prejudice. . . right?

  10. Mothers Worry says:

    Sherry… Talking to teachers, students are not tested in American History, the subject barey touched upon…You were aware of that, right?

    Prejudice????? Nice attempt at race baiting.

  11. scoff the cuff says:

    Get around enough and you’ll be walked on by someone.
    Anyway. I’m tired of the ‘balkenization’. Black, white, LGTB, gun for, baby against, women this, dentists that, Ford, Chevy, with home, without, married, single, GAG.

  12. Sherry says:

    According to Florida statutes a passing grade in US History is required in order to graduate:

    (d) Three credits in social studies.—A student must earn one credit in United States History; one credit in World History; one-half credit in economics, which must include financial literacy; and one-half credit in United States Government. The United States History EOC assessment constitutes 30 percent of the student’s final course grade.

    No ” race baiting” required in this discussion. . .

  13. JonQPublik says:

    @ r& r: Careful there, you’re heading into libel territory. It amazes me that people are still bitter about having a president of color. Embarrassing, actually.

    “Before Obama came on the scene I thought we were all getting along pretty good.” No. WE were not. People grew comfortable with the status quo because there was so much else to worry about, things that garnered national attention because it was so much easier to focus on something half a world away. There has always been a bitterness lingering, and it will continue to linger until all people can focus on not being a “majority” or a “minority”. It’s a really simple observation, but perhaps one that hasn’t been put into perspective, especially if you’ve never asked yourself “Why do I feel superior (or inferior) to someone unlike me?” Why are these differences important? It doesn’t make sense to me.

    I will say this: as equality becomes more balanced, the more we have to be careful to not treat former suppressors unequally. This is a razor’s edge to walk, obviously. There will be so much to let go, and ALL sides will have to see the humanity in every single identity, without pride clouding vision.

  14. Sherry says:

    Dear JonQPublik,

    Past posts reveal that there are those commenting here that are so doggedly entrenched in their bigotry that attempts at raising consciousness through compassion or rational reasoning and logic is a complete exercise in futility. With some, I just ignore their words and “consider the source”.

    Still, I certainly wish you much more success than I have had, and applaud you for your caring efforts.

  15. Anita says:

    @Done, @r&r: What specifically is there about “white” history which hasn’t been covered in class or media that you, personally, would like known? Was it the fact that the Africans whose unpaid labor built this country were considered property and not human beings? Was it the fact that losing the Civil War, which ostensibly ended slavery, didn’t deter white Americans from refusing full rights of freed men and women to former slaves, instead substituting jim crow laws to maintain second class citizenship to former slaves? That’s the kind of mindless, conscienceless cruelty you’re so proud of?

    Where are those “dreaded” Black Panthers today? When was the last killing of whites by Black Panthers recorded? Now use your P.C. to look up Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland , Eric Green and Tamir Rice. I challenge you to tell me what each of these black Americans did that was worthy of death, delivered at the hands of white Americans. Before you condemn black Americans for demanding the same rights and considerations as any other citizen, you need to think about how you would feel if white Americans were treated with such automatic disrespect.

    @Mother’s worry: If your child isn’t receiving the quality education you’re paying taxes for, it’s up to you to speak with school Administration and/or visit your Public Library for books/tapes/CDs which fill in the gaps.

  16. Sherry says:

    Excellent points and very well said, Anita!

    I would love to think that actual “facts” and reasonable discourse would help to open minds and hearts. But, I must say I’m not very optimistic about some in our community being willing to even consider the perspective of those living their lives while being discriminated against 24/7. We should all strive to really walk in the shoes of others before painting entire segments of of our society with the broad brush containing labels like lazy, drug abusers and criminals.

    Unfortunately too many of our citizens are massively manipulated by media outlets that sell fear, hate and xenophobia against all who are not white and Christian. Our wonderful country is becoming more and more diverse in race and religion. We need to embrace that human diversity, for there lies our bright future. . . instead of trying to use hatred to divide us. United we stand, divided we fall!

  17. nomad says:

    Booker T Washington is deserving of a mention but you’ll never hear him mentioned publicly among these race hustlers. Although they and their White race baiting liberals are ever so grateful to him for providing them with the means to make a living.

    “There is another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs – partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs. […]

    I am afraid that there is a certain class of race problem solvers who don’t want the patient to get well, because as long as the disease holds out they have not only an easy means of making a living, but also an easy medium through which to make themselves prominent before the public.

    If the patient gets well, an entire industry of victimhood will get cancer and die. This would be the best thing for the black community. Until blacks throw off the shroud of victimhood, they will be at the mercy of “doctors” who treat a cancer that does not exist but that they are paying for to enrich others.”

  18. Anita says:

    Most Americans know the names of Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin L. King well enough, but unfortunately, those gallant black Americans don’t seem to have changed the outlook of whites clinging so tenaciously to their favorite stereotypes when it comes to race. If the lessons of black American history were taught with honesty and rigor, there would be no need for a month devoted to educating white America on what it seems to have “forgotten” (or perhaps never knew).

    There are those white Americans who dismiss black American complaints as bids for “sympathy” or arcane money-making schemes and who deny that these very real problems still exist despite verifiable accounts of inequities perpetrated by the courts, by law enforcement, in the academe, housing, the workplace and almost every area of American life in which our Constitution guarantees the expectation of fair and equitable treatment for ALL There are those who take refuge in willful blindness to the existence of institutional racism because it sustains their privileged status. What does the “angry white man” have reason to be angry about? And from what or whom is he “taking his country back” ?

    Black Americans are correcting the mis-education promoted by 200+ years of self-serving history books in which their accomplishments in the face of horror and obstacles have largely been omitted and are are determined to cure America of the disease of racism.

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