Black History Month: remembering who we have become
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
While the Declaration of Independence was used as a document of protection against the perils of British tyranny, it failed to acknowledge the bondage and servitude that ran rampant through cultures of people living within “the land of the free.” When a majority race of whites dedicated their life in the pursuit of blacks to destroy their liberty and happiness, what truths did the Declaration really spread? Instead, the promise of a meaningful life for all had dissipated into the dark past of more than two centuries of slavery.
Fifty years after the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, Black History Month came to life through the works of Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland in 1915. Woodson and Moorland created the Association of the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) as a way of spreading knowledge of African-American contributions to the society at large. The organization operated to promote research of the black race and prove that black culture was significant in the development of civilization.
One year after its formation, Woodson began a scholarly journal, The Journal of Negro History, which continued to help raise awareness to the importance of the black race. In 1926, Woodson and Moorland extended the publicity of ASNLH by sponsoring a national Negro History Week during the second week of February. The dates were chosen to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, pioneers of freedom for the black race.
Over the next few decades, cities across the United States began to officially recognize Negro History Week in their yearly proclamations. Communities and schools began to promote local celebrations and lectures regarding black history. During the 60s, college campuses expanded Negro History Week into the entire month of February, but it wasn’t until 1972 that President Gerald Ford officially established February to be Black History Month and created the tradition that we all celebrate today.
Some people wonder why February, the shortest month of the year, was given in recognition of the accomplishments of blacks since black people are prone to getting the short end of the stick in American societies. Even though February is only 28 days, the significance comes from commemoration of the lives of two men who have historically shaped America onto the path of acceptance. Instead of perceiving the month as another example of inequality between blacks and whites, we can look at the month in honor of its uniqueness.
February is special—it’s one of a kind with its leap year and holidays. Black people are special—we are one of a kind with our leaps through oppression and perseverance through some of the unholiest days of American history.
If there’s anything that people from the black heritage should realize, it’s that we are not a symbol of slavery … we are a symbol of strength, devotion, pride and beauty.
Everyone has different ways of recognizing Black History Month. William Opitz, a freshman here at Puget Sound, said that to him Black History Month is “a time to remember how messed up things were in the past.” It gives America time to reflect on the impact racial divides can and did have on our society.
But reflecting on the history of black Americans does not always need to carry a somber undertone. Tahir Abdullah, Assistant Director of Spiritual Life at the University of Chicago, believes instead that “it’s a reminder for America; it’s a reminder of the best we have become.”
He went on to say there is more greatness that came out of the Movement than we acknowledge because there are “all these rights that other people benefit from,” not just blacks.
Whichever way we look at it, Black History Month is a time to reflect, honor and celebrate. The month is more than just 28 days to remember that black people have suffered unjustly in America for far too long; there are 28 days for us all to think about how our actions impact others and to become aware of the areas where we can improve ourselves.
Each year February receives a theme in recognizing Black History Month. This year’s theme is in honor of the Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington. In the words of “Lift Every Voice and Sing:” “Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on till victory is won.” Victory comes when we join together to acknowledge that we are all humans, and we all deserve life, liberty, happiness and love.