“What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice.”
— Carter G. Woodson, PhD
From the start, Black History Month was meant to be history.
Carter G. Woodson, PhD, a scholar and the son of slaves, started the celebration in 1926. His goal was to recognize Black achievement. He felt strongly that Black people should know their history. He thought our futures should be informed by our past accomplishments.
At that time, the event was called “Negro History Week.” But by the mid-1960’s, it had grown into a month-long celebration. All across the U.S., schools carried on the tradition.
Then, in 1976, 50 years after the first event, President Gerald Ford decreed Black History Month a national observance. It would seem Woodson’s dream had come to pass.
Or maybe not. Woodson hoped Black Americans would become such an integral part of this country that designating 1 month to reflect on our contributions would no longer be necessary. He didn’t dream of Black history being propped up and set aside. He dreamt that it would be stitched into the very garment of American liberty.
Yet, as a nation, we continue to mend a fractured democracy. Systemic racism still runs rampant. Have we evolved? Or regressed? How much more do we need to grow before Black History Month is outdated.
I’m not sure. I’m a first-generation, post-civil-rights Black woman. My grandfather worked as a sharecropper. I have rights my ancestors didn’t. And Black History Month continues to hold much importance for me.
I think about Michelle Obama, America’s first Black First Lady. And Kamala Harris, the first Black, South Asian female vice president. And then there’s Amanda Gorman, our nation’s youngest poet laureate. She personifies poise and grace well beyond her 25 years.
Three firsts. Three threads among many more to come. Perhaps we can weave them into history. Not just Black history. But American history.
Because the truth is. Even if Dr. Woodson wanted Black History Month to be retired, we’ve got too much celebrating to do. Too much honoring. Too much elevating. There are so many voices waiting to be heard. To be lifted. To be valued.
We’re just getting started. And you can’t make Black History Month history when we’re making history every day.
By Roxane Battle
Roxane Battle uses her gift of storytelling to make mental health care more relatable and accessible, especially among marginalized communities. Prior to AbleTo, Roxane spent over 20 years as a news anchor and Emmy-nominated reporter at NBC Minneapolis, CBS, and FOX. Roxane was named an Architect of Change on mariashriver.com and has been featured in Working Mother and Ebony magazines. Her self-help memoir, Pockets of Joy: Deciding to Be Happy, Choosing to Be Free (Whitaker House, 2017), became an Amazon bestseller in multiple categories.
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