February has many holidays and observances. One of these is Black History Month. Founded in 1926 by the historian and educator, Carter G. Woodson, it initially only lasted a week in February. The celebration intentionally coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass – two Americans who helped shape black history. Woodson’s goal was to integrate the teaching of black history into the classrooms of America’s schools. The “goal was, first, to give blacks a sense of pride in their accomplishments and, second, to educate whites on the many contributions made by African Americans.”
The weeklong observance was expanded to include all of February in 1976 as part of the United States Bicentennial celebration. President Gerald Ford urged Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
However, there are many people in the African American community that are skeptical of Black History Month. Articles in The Journal Of Blacks In Higher Education question if Black History Month still serves a useful purpose, “singling out African Americans for special attention in February reinforces white beliefs that black history is not worthy of general recognition.” There is also the concern that large corporations “make token efforts to promote an awareness of black history in an effort to further their marketing efforts in the black community.”
At my school, I guess we side with the critics of Black History Month as it is currently observed. Black history is American history so it is part of our education year round. Historian, John Hope Franklin (The Journal Of Blacks In Higher Education) even points out that in 1936 Carter G. Woodson said that “he looked forward to the time when it would not be necessary to set aside a week.” Woodson “fervently hoped that soon, the history of African Americans would become an integral part of American history and would be observed throughout the year.”
Perhaps on this 40th anniversary of the weeklong awareness being stretched to include the whole month we can do our part to help Carter G. Woodson’s (and many others) idea for equality become a reality.