Illustration by Dakota Cox.

Black History Matters

The celebration of Black history should not be confined to a single month

The importance of Black History Month just goes without saying. This month is dedicated to the many struggles, movements, and achievements Black figures have experienced that have gone on to shape our country to where it is now. I believe, however that rather than celebrating Black culture in America for a single month out of the year, it should be taken into consideration that Black history should be recognized year round.

Now, I’m not criticizing Black History Month for being the shortest month; February was actually chosen by Carter G. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History” because of the significant birthdays of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. I’m saying that Black history has decades of events and figures that can open the eyes of future generations and modern individuals that lead us to where this country is going or will go, if informed correctly.

Woodson pushed for Black history to be integrated into public schooling systems in hopes that Americans could learn about the many achievements and hardships of Black Americans in this country; as well as provided the opportunity for Black Americans to learn more about their past and to be proud of their heritage. At first, Black History was only recognized as a week-long remembrance after Woodson reached out to the general public in which he established, “Negro History Week” in 1926. The shift from a week to a month started to take hold during the coming decades before Woodson’s death in the 1950’s as a few cities in the country began to acknowledge this celebration. After the revolutionary movements in the 60’s, in 1976 President Gerald Ford recognized that the month of February was dedicated to Black history. However, according to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, founded by Woodson in 1915, “Woodson believed that Black history was too important to America and the world to be crammed into a limited time frame.”

It is great to know that Black History is actually being celebrated, but as a country we cannot even begin to unpack all that history into a single short month. Black history should be taught in schools year round. All that I can remember about Black history from my middle school and high school history classes is learning about the Civil War, the Civil Rights movement, which yes, did go over a brief introduction to Jim Crow laws, but that was basically a week and half coverage of that history. I never developed a deep understanding of Black history from public education until I took it upon myself to research and learn on my own time, and when I got into college. The same can be said for a number of people in this country. Some people even think that racism doesn’t exist in America, and we all know that is just a blatant lie.

If schools are to talk about Black history, they need to get into the meat of that history. I understand that the gruesome history of our country may be a lot for younger children to handle, but we can at least introduce them early on with detailed descriptions of heroic Black figures and accomplishments; like writers, athletes, scientists, inventors, musicians, historical attributors, etc. When schools start to talk more about American settlement, the Civil War, Civil Rights movements, etc. that is when students should be introduced to the deeper sides of our history. We cannot continue glorifying the Founding Fathers and other American historical figures who were actually terrible people. Who were slaveowners, abusers, and racists. Instead we should be learning about the heroic tales of Black historical figures; like Harriet Tubman (1822-1913) who not only freed hundreds of men, women, and children from slavery as a conductor for the Underground Railroad, but also became a spy and the first woman to lead combat expeditions for the Union Army when the Civil War started in 1861. Tubman later freed 700 more slaves in 1863 while she led 150 soldiers in the Union Army.

Talk about Frederick Douglass (1818-1885) who had been a slave for nearly 20 years then escaped and fought to end the practice of slavery. Douglass was a national leader in the Abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York. Douglass was firm on the equality of all races and genders. He was a renowned orator, activist, and writer.

Speaking of writers, a great feat in Black History was the power of the Black Press after the Civil War had ended. One of my favorite journalists is Ida B. Wells (1862-1931), who was also one of the founders of NAACP. Wells was a well known investigative journalist who covered the tens of thousands of lynchings that were happening in the south. Her book “The Red Record” (1895) went over the horrors happening to Black Americans around the country and the struggles they had faced in the south after the civil war. Wells was a writer, investigative journalist, editor, educator, and an early Civil Rights activist.

I’m sure most, if not all, know about Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-68). He was one of the leading forces in the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s. The impacts he made through his speech and peaceful protests made a huge difference in our society. Take the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a protest in which activists alongside MLK boycotted public transport to take a stand on segregated seating Black Americans were facing on public buses. This boycott made a severe economic impact on the public transit system that ultimately led to the decision by the Supreme Court that segregated seating was unconstitutional in 1956. MLK also inspired many peaceful marches, protests, and sit-ins around the country, including the March on Washington during the Summer of 1963, where he held his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Around 200,000 to 300,000 people joined MLK and later it became the driving factor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Someone who had a different perspective than MLK’s nonviolent approach was Malcolm X (1925-65). Malcolm X was also an incredible speaker and civil rights activist. X encouraged Black Americans to protect themselves when it comes to white aggression, especially when it comes to law enforcement. His powerful messages gave fellow Black Americans the courage to stand against racism and police brutality. Soon after his assassination in 1965, the Black Panther Party was formed by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. One of the Black Panther Party leaders who made a phenomenal impact in the Chicago, IL community was deputy chairman, Fred Hampton (1948-69).

Hampton was a revolutionary socialist who established free breakfast programs for young children, organized rallies, and brought together rival gangs and organized parties to create a “Rainbow Coalition.” Hampton was an extremely powerful leader and speaker; however, Hampton and the Black Panthers were deemed by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover at the time as “One of the greatest threats to the nation’s internal security.” Hampton was murdered, sleeping in his own home by the FBI in 1969 at the age of only 21. You can witness his story in the movie “Judas and the Black Messiah” that’s streaming on HBO.

There are countless figures and numerous movements in our history that I can mention, like Marsha P. Johnson (1945-92); an American gay liberation activist; or even what is happening right now with the BLM movements. But, since it would become an entire book if I did, I suggest you take it upon yourself to do more research, because this knowledge is essential to our history and how we view our country even to this day.

Just recently, I read in a CBS news article that in Northern Utah, parents dropped a request to a charter school wanting to opt out of Black history in the school’s curriculum. Black history should never be an option to “opt out” of, our children need to understand the obstacles and struggles that Black Americans have and continue to face to this day. If we neglect our responsibility to teach the younger generations about Black history, we’re creating an even bigger problem: raising sheltered and ignorant individuals around our country.

America has a deeply embedded dark past, we know this. This is why we can’t selectively overlook it and claim to be the “greatest” country in the world. What we can do is continue to educate those who simply don’t know. We need to show the accomplishments behind Civil Rights activists, The Black Panthers, BLM activists and more. We need to continue to call out racism, oppression, and discrimination when we see it. We need to recognize the achievements our Black figures have accomplished in order to show this country that Black and POC voices matter and have mattered. That is why instead of just making it a month, we need to push beyond the boundaries that have been set in our system and acknowledge Black and brown excellence, whenever and however we can.

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