Understanding Black History

Amy Julian

While many people know that Black History Month is in February, most people, regardless of race, do not understand the history of the important month, or the significance of Black History Month within the African American and interracial communities.

Black History Month started out as only a week-long celebration, called Negro History Week. Established by Carter G. Woodson in 1926, Negro History Week was planned to be the week in February coinciding with the birthdays of both Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. Woodson wanted to set aside a week in February to educate the public of the struggles that had plagued African Americans throughout history, and those that remained prominent during the time.

It wasn’t until 1976, the year of the nation’s bicentennial, that Negro History Week was expanded to the entire month of February.

The purpose of Black History Month is to represent the tribulations of prejudice towards the Black community, and to advance Black self-worth and pride in the face of years of social, personal and economic subjugation.

While at UMB we have a thriving Africana Studies Department, many students, and even some faculty, do not truly understand the significance of this historic month. “I know about slavery and stuff like that from history classes, but it’s kind of sad that I don’t really even know about my own people’s importance,” one Africana Studies major admitted.

“It’s true,” added Valerie Jean Baptiste. “I think it’s important that our people rally together and educate the general public and ourselves about the huge impact that Blacks have had on the country and the world.”

Black History Month is a time for self-reflection on the part of African Americans and the entire public in general. “People need to realize that if it weren’t for some of the most influential Blacks in music, sports, politics, we wouldn’t have some of the stuff we have today,” Raymond Austin noted. And without such historic milestones as the Civil Rights Movement, Harlem Renaissance, and even Jackie Robinson’s trailblazing baseball career, we as a society and culture may still be living in the past.

“A lot of people laugh at Black History Month. They shouldn’t though,” Jean Baptiste stressed. “If it weren’t for these great figures that stood up against adversity, like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., we would probably still be living in a society of slavery and racial segregation.”

Since its establishment as a month-long celebration in 1976, Black History Month has become more prominent in mainstream culture and more attention has been placed upon it to thrust it into the public arena. Abriana Golden recalls hearing stories of her mother’s struggle with honoring her African heritage. “My mom tells me stories about how when she was my age, that even though it was Black History Month and it was a time to be proud, she still faced a ton of shit for trying to embrace her roots.” Golden goes on to explain how she tries to celebrate her Cape Verdean heritage: “Now because of my mom, I try to go out of my way to do things during February, to watch the History Channel specials or listen to old-time Scott Joplin and Duke Ellington. I try to force myself to make up for the lack of importance my mom placed on it.”

It is often those who don’t fully understand or appreciate just how much influence African American leaders have had that tend to minimize the importance of Black History Month. Educate yourself, expose yourself to new things, attend a Black History Month event in Boston, even just talk to a professor or relative and find out how they celebrate the historic month. Black History Month, regardless how you celebrate or don’t celebrate, is an extremely significant and important month that serves to not only honor the struggles and accomplishments of great African American figures throughout history, but to educate the country and the world of the current racial relations and struggles that are being faced today and to serve as a mouthpiece for racial tolerance and appreciation.