With Black History Month being integrated into Ridgewood’s educational system, we have always been accustomed to celebrating it. However, many may not know the history behind the celebration and why we continue to celebrate it every year.
It is important to take the month’s background into perspective when celebrating such important people in America’s history. Black History Month first began in 1926 when Carter G. Woodson, a well-respected African-American historian, scholar, publisher, and educator, established national Black History Week. Woodson’s goal was to educate children and expose them to Black history. Thanks to the Civil Rights Movement, the week became very popular, and by 1976, it turned into what is now recognized as Black History Month. The month of February was chosen because it coincides with the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln: two well known activists that fought for African American equality. Black History Month is a way to acknowledge the accomplishments and contributions of African Americans in the United States. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, have followed in America’s footsteps and by adopting a month to celebrate those of African descent. Schools across the country have organized local celebrations, created clubs based off of African history, and hosted performances and lectures to inform those on the history of Africans in America. However, it is also important that we constantly reconsider the importance of Black History Month and why we observe it annually.It is indisputable that in America we have had immense racial progress. The federal government has made great strides for racial equality dating back to the Emancipation Proclamation. Without the steps of these impactful activists, we as a nation would not have elected Barack Obama, the first African American president.
Nonetheless, it seems America is forgetting the true meaning of Black History Month. This celebration must exist in order to advance the effort to provide what federal policies have not: the end of systemic racism. Currently, African American unemployment is twice that of white Americans, and the average wealth for black Americans is ten times less white citizens’. However, these systemic racial inequalities are not just the result of governmental policy but also of American character. While we teach our children the importance of celebrating the African presence in America, we are still turning our backs on the real issues of racism in our nation. In fact, many American citizens today believe that we as a country have not done enough to give African Americans the same opportunities and privileges as white Americans. We must take more time, especially during Black History Month, to listen to the famous words of the past abolitionists of our country: “Am I not a man and a brother?” Although we observe Black History Month as a nation, citizens need to step back and look at the bigger picture of the celebration.
The accomplishments of African Americans in this country need to be recognized and appreciated. Woodson conjectured that the celebration of Black History Month would be a proactive step made by the American government to “destroy the dividing prejudices of nationality and teach universal love without distinction of race, merit or rank.” And as a nation today, we must take Black History Month as a valuable opportunity to continue acknowledging the accomplishments of African Americans and venerate them as fellow builders of this country.
Graphic: Erin Kim