“When I was going to school, I began to be bugged by the teachings of American history because it seemed that that history had been taught without cognizance of my presence.”
~ James Baldwin
What is the point of learning history? Attention is given to the here and now, and energy put toward the future. However, history is the legacy of men, a teaching tool, and a line of connection for society. By learning history, we can better understand the world we live and how to progress.
Black History Month, or African-American History Month, is the brainchild of Carter G. Woodson. It came about due to the scarcity of black history in formal education systems in America prior to 1915. The purpose was to acknowledge the role of Black Americans in U.S. history. February is the designated month of celebration, after starting the second week of February in 1926 to coincide the Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays.
Black history, or African-American history is unique in that we can pin point its exact beginnings and with great detail, outline its duration. The people are not united by a homeland, but a deplorable and lamentable circumstance. African-Americans descend from various groups African people taken from their land. For this reason, the foundation of African-American history is rooted in displaced development and estrangement, and records advancement out of oppression. It encompasses the success and achievements that are often overlooked, incorrectly taught, yet entirely remarkable.
While we have the entire month to celebrate our history, this does not change the fact that we can do this all year long. Unlike during its humble beginnings, information is easily accessible, giving no reason for African-American history to be unknown. However, it is found that even in modern times, Black history still witnesses disservice. This, among other reasons is why, advocates of Black History Month encourage its celebration.
Black history is American history and the integral nature betrays the idea that one can be taught without the other. Sometimes the month-long celebration alludes to a separation from American History; however, it must not be forgotten that Black history begins with the forced emigration of African people to the United States. Celebrating Black history focuses attention to a unique area of American history. President Gerald Ford once said, “In celebrating Black History Month, we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” African-Americans have and continue to make invaluable contributions, which deserve to be recognized just like everyone else.
When we bypass, under-represent and put off conversation concerning Black history we are complicit in the desolation of a people. The point of celebrating African-American is not to isolate others, but to encourage unity among people, instill pride and delight in accomplishments of the past and how those same accomplishments give hope for the future, connect to the rest of world and reflect on what our history teaches us. So, it is important to remember a few things...
Black history is not just slavery, old songs and dashikis
Just like American history is more than muskets, the Boston Tea Party, and blue grass music, Black history is more than slavery, old songs and dashikis. There are lists of achievements, people, movements and more that comprise Black history—literary wonders, musical geniuses, and cultural leaders. We should remember to reach deeper into history to explore more than what has become general knowledge.
Black history is more than Martin Luther King
This in no way discounts the impact King has had and continues to have in civil rights for African-Americans and other minorities. His inspiration, message, and activism are notable. However, the membership of Black history contributors extends beyond the few icons we can count on our hands. A handful of people do not sum up over two centuries of history and knowing one person does not mean you know the history.
Black history is still being made
Black history did not stop in 1963 or 2004. It is on-going. There are still first-time accomplishments for black Americans and Americans who are black—the distinction being there is a difference from being recognized as the first African-American versus the first American. Take for instance, Simon Biles. The now, 22-year-old African-American, is the first American gymnast to earn 14 World Championship medals and four consecutive national championships in 42 years.
Black history is multi-cultural
Vested interest in one’s national heritage does not isolate or disregard another’s. That being said, anyone can celebrate someone else’s heritage. The celebration of Black history is not exclusive. Furthermore, Black history is also a history of immigration. While racially similar, African-Americans or Black Americans are ethnically and culturally diverse.
In the end, we celebrate Black History month to honor achievements of the past. The representation is important. We remember because it is not something that should be forgotten or hidden. We study since knowledge spurs informed action. History exists for the future. It can influence innovative progress and meaningful change. Being knowledgeable of history prevents confusion of identity, capability and possibility. When we muddle in ignorance, we injure ourselves by living unaware of liberating truths. Wonderful things are missed when we don’t know the entire story, that being history.