In 1926, to push back on both the lack of accurate African American representation in curriculum and unrealistic, offensive representations in popular culture, the great African American historian and educator Carter G. Woodson initiated Negro History Week, situating the week in February, the month of Fredrick Douglass’ and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays. Later in 1976, the week expanded to a month.
Every February, the most frequently asked question I get from white folks is why is there a Black History Month? The academic answer is that historically and even today the contributions of Africans and African Americans is often eclipsed. True, African Americans are mentioned in popular history, but those inclusions rarely explore the broad scope of African Americans, or the deep struggle African Americans have had in reforming historical omissions and stereotypes. You see, Black History Month is not just about recognizing great Black contributors, but recognizing and respecting the struggle, resistance, brilliance and humanity of the Black experience, an experience perennially minimized and marginalized.
So, if you don’t know that Africans were freely living in the Americas a century before Jamestown 1609; if you don’t know that enslaved Africans actively resisted enslavement; if you don’t know anti-black federal policies that privileged white folks; if you don’t know why there are black universities and organizations; if you don’t know the historic destruction of black lives; if you don’t know how black culture has a profound impact on popular culture; if you don’t know why black folks continue to protest for our humanity; or, if this perspective makes you uncomfortable, then you -- we -- continue to need Black History Month. Plain and simple.
I am Joseph Flynn and that is my perspective, and happy Black History Month. As the great filmmaker Spike Lee asks, ya dig? Sho nuff!