Anna Julia Cooper in The Higher Education of Women (1890-1891)
When you identify with your ancestors sooo strongly that it’s a damn shame.
Slaves nonetheless had their own way of doing things, refusing to concede too much, sometimes refusing to concede at all. If the slave master’s interference in the slave’s personal life was interminable, so too was the slave’s resistance to this kind of intervention. Like their owners, slave attitudes and decisions about courtship and marriage were shaped by gender convention and community concerns, but not necessarily the same conventions or concerns. The matrifocality of many slave families, for example, meant that the realities of slave manhood and womanhood differed substantially within the context of family life from those whose familial experiences were nuclear and patriarchal. Likewise, extended families and slave communities were important, not just because they monitored slave behavior and maintained slave values, thereby protecting the integrity of the community. Members of slave communities also actually played substantial physical, material, and emotional roles in the lives of slaves. To a large extent, they were the slave’s family. The presence of meaningful kinship ties embodied in the extended family or community, therefore, allowed slaves to take on a variety of marital arrangements and familial structures. One’s master might have had the final authority, but there also were other slaves and slave institutions that exerted influence, perhaps more influence than masters realized. Within the broad contours of slave life that masters insisted on designing, slaves found spaces of their own, choosing what lines to and not to cross as they constructed their own domestic terrain."
— "Slave Marriage and Family Relations" in Life in Black and White: Family and Community in the Slave South (pdf)
I keep seeing this time and time again from people that mean well. Clearly, the education system has failed us all… so before Black History Month even begins, let’s discuss the history of Black History Month.
Without meetings, without rituals, ceremonies, myths and symbols, there can be no great people. Afro Americans, recognizing this… went out into the alleys and the fields and formed their own institutions, and in the process, invented themselves. - scholar Lerone Bennett Jr, 1968
Firstly, Black Americans used to have yearly celebrations in remembrance of Emancipation. A terrific book about these celebrations is Festivals of Freedom: Memory and Meaning in African American Emancipation Celebrations, 1808-1915. It was at the 3 week long 50th Emancipation celebration in Washington D.C. that Carter G. Woodson first found his inspiration for what we now call Black History Month.
Thousands of Black people waited in long lines to see exhibits about the progress Blacks had made since Emancipation. Woodson, who had a doctorate degree from Harvard, also had an exhibit set up. Seeing so many people anxious to know their history inspired Woodson to form the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), “an organization to promote the scientific study of black life and history.”
He established The Journal of Negro History in 1916 and hoped that others would popularize the research he and his fellow scholars published. He began to promote their uncovered Black achievements. He was able to get his Omega Psi Phi fraternity brothers to establish a successful Negro History and Literature Week, but Woodson wanted more. In February, 1926, Woodson sent out a press release announcing Negro History Week.
"Woodson chose February for the reasons of tradition and reform.”
- Tradition: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass both have birthdays in February. Republicans and Blacks had already been celebrating Lincoln’s birthday (12th) and Blacks had been celebrating Douglass’ birthday (14th). By not creating something completely new but rather extending on celebrations that were already there, Woodson sought to increase his chance of successfully establishing Negro History Week.
- Reform: Woodson did not particularly like the celebrations held for Lincoln and Douglass. He believed that history and progress was made by people, not just by great men. He wanted to shift the focus away from just two individuals to the entire race.
So, there you go.
How popular was Negro History Week? Was Negro History Week meant to be permanent or temporary? How did Negro History Week become Black History Month? How would Woodson feel about the commercialization of Black History Month? Read more (via ASALH)
— L.F. “Skip” Griffin, president of the Afro Association at Harvard, 1969.