A national holiday in the United States, Black History Month celebrates, every February the often unremembered and overlooked accomplishments and history of Black Americans. During this month, special attention is given to Black-focused studies through specialized school curriculums, special events and more. These events even spread to events beyond education, including corporations like Instagram and Coca-Cola, to commemorate how far Black Americans have come.
Black History Month originated with Carter G. Woodson, an African-American historian, author and journalist who was the son of former enslaved people. A graduate of Harvard, he was frustrated by historians’ dismissal of Black history. As one of the first scholars of the African diaspora, he created the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) Sept. 9, 1912. This association promoted the research of Black History, publicizing the sparse works on Black history of Black researchers like Woodson.
Still, Woodson was unsatisfied; he created a Negro History Week the second week of February, choosing this week since Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln were both born during it. With a growing racial consciousness that emerged within the African American community in a Post-World War I United States, this movement became extremely popular. The onset of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s turned the week into a month, as succeeding presidents celebrated it every February.
Black History Month has become a principle of scrutiny in the succeeding years since its establishment. Many Black Americans praise the month, referencing the unproportional focus on European activities and people in American history. In fact, Teaching Tolerance, an initiative focused on removing prejudice through educational means, used a grading scale to analyze how well the 50 states and District of Columbia taught civil rights education. It found that twenty states received a failing grade, five of which did not teach civil rights at all. Proponents, thus, see Black History Month as a needed segment of time to remedy these ills.
Although there is a focus on Black history, this month focuses on more aspects of Black culture. Events, promoted from local organizations to big television networks, place a spotlight on Black achievement and struggles. This month provides a time to remember and appreciate Black culture.
“We celebrate Black History Month to recognize the sacrifices, contributions and achievements of African Americans to the United States and the world,” president of the Black Student Union senior Tai Precilla said. “Black History Month is not just a time to celebrate Black Americans who have paved the way for us all to thrive, it is also a time to consider how we can create more justice in our daily lives and institutions. It allows us to take the time to reflect on our own actions and think about ways we can achieve equality.”
Yet, this month brings in criticism from many who question the true benefits of this movement. Other Black Americans believe that this month allows for American curriculum to ignore Black history the whole year, then focus on repetitive Black figures for a very short span of time, essentially teaching very little. Woodson himself wanted for the week to be an amalgamation of everything learned throughout the year. With this perspective, one month is not nearly enough to learn what is needed and allows for Black history to ultimately be ignored.
As well, this month is criticized by some for creating a segregation of topics. They believe the best learning would occur if Black history was more seamlessly integrated into the culture, rather than a small, designated time to learn of Black history; this principle is concisely stated in the phrase “Black History is American History.”
Despite those who disagree, Black History Month has continued as an annual, federally-supported holiday dedicated to Black people.