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February marks Black History Month, a tradition that dates back to the Jim Crow era and was officially recognized in 1976 as part of the national bicentennial celebration. It aims to honor the contributions African Americans have made and recognize their sacrifices.
Here are three things to know about Black History Month:
It was Black History Week before it was Black History Month
In 1926, Carter G. Woodsonscholar often referred to as “the father of Black history,” founded Black History Week to focus attention on Blacks’ contributions to civilization. According to the NAACP, Woodson — at the time, only the second black American after WEB Du Bois to earn a doctorate at Harvard University — “believed fervently that Blacks should be proud of their heritage and [that] All Americans should understand the largely overlooked achievements of black Americans.”
Woodson, son of former slaves, famous speak: “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes an insignificant factor in the world’s thinking, and it is in danger of being annihilated.”
Woodson chose a week in February because of Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday was on February 12, and Frederick Douglass, who was born a slave and did not know his actual date of birth, but chose to celebrate his birthday on February 14th.
“Those two are central to helping Black people experience the freedom they have now,” said W. Marvin Dulaney, president of the Association for the Study of African American History and Life (ASALH), which Woodson founded in 1915 and today is the official promoter of Black History Month.
In the decades after the Civil War and through Racial violence broke out across the country in the years following World War IThere was a concerted effort to suppress the teaching of Dark history.
“In the South, they try to prevent Black history or African American history, especially about things like Reconstruction and slavery, from distorting the curriculum in its own right,” says Dulaney. black.”
At the university level, he said, black studies programs are virtually nonexistent. “California was the first state to actually mandate Black history in 1951 to public schools.”
As LaGarrett King, associate professor of social studies education at the University of Buffalo, said largely as a result of the civil rights and black consciousness movements in the 1960s, “you’ve seen an increase in black history courses”.
Across the country, King said, public schools “created all these courses and assignments for Black history,” informally creating Black History Month.
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Marcus Hunter, professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the Black press also helped promote the idea.
“Chicago defenderthe Philadelphia Courtthe African Americans in Baltimore … they all started saying this is something we’re celebrating,” said Hunter.
By 1976, it became official, with President Gerald R. Ford declare February is Black History Month and urges the public to “seize the opportunity to celebrate the often overlooked achievements of black Americans in every field of endeavor throughout our history.”
There is a new theme every year
Each year, ASALH chooses a different theme for Black History Month. This year, the theme is “Black Resistance.”
ASALH said of “African Americans have resisted historical and ongoing oppression, in all its forms, especially the racist terrorism of hanging, racial massacre, and police brutality. murder since we came to these shores.” this year’s theme. “These efforts are to advocate for a worthy life of self-determination in a just democratic society in the United States and beyond the political jurisdiction of the United States.”
Dulaney said this year’s theme was chosen in part because of the political climate surrounding the current issue of race.
He called for efforts in states like Floridarecently declined a new Advanced Placement course that includes African American studies, and Alabama, where the State Board of Education voted to limit how educators can talk about race in the classroom, “a strong restriction” on the acceptance of Black history. Therefore, this year’s theme seems relevant, Dulaney said.
King acknowledged that some people might interpret this year’s theme as politically provocative, but should not see it that way. Instead, it was an attempt to reframe the conversation about Black history around the topic of empowerment, he said.
“With resistance, there is a tacit understanding of oppression, and it seems that part of the population does not want to acknowledge those historical truths,” he said. “However, resistance helps us to understand the power that Blacks have in terms of their historical reality, which goes against the notion of victimization that many argue has promoted Black History education.” black.”
Recent controversies over how to teach race echo a period in which Black history is often overlooked
For Dulaney, the culture war is raging across the country over how students learn about race feels like a case of history repeating itself.
For many recent events – police killings Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, for example, and the ongoing controversy surrounding critical race theory, an academic framework that says white people have benefited from racial segregation ingrained in organizations. of America — like a repeating pattern, he said.
Dulaney, 72, said: “I grew up in Ohio and we don’t know of an African-American or African-American man or woman who has ever done anything in history.
“Beginning in the 60s through the 70s, we have been very successful in integrating African American cultural history into the curriculum,” he said.
However, “now that we’re back, we must push that agenda again… [against those] trying to stop the teaching of history and culture by African-Americans.”
King thinks the current controversies surrounding the critical race theory will subside. “My personal feeling is that they will find another politically-generated outrage and move on to the next one,” he said.
UCLA’s Hunter says that debate shows where the country is right now. What it really says is “a lot of work remains to be done.”
However, Black History Month has been and may continue to be a force for better understanding.
“It gives a certain degree of optimism about what could happen if people really focused on its educational importance,” he said.