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)
- First raise the prices of homes in certain areas, making it difficult for minorities to live there (this in addition to the institutional racism found in banks that regularly deny home loans to blacks and browns irrespective of credit).
- Then create a legal justification for segregating schools by implementing “school zones” in the administration; the idea that if a student lives too far from the school (out of zone) the likelihood of truancy and tardiness increases. So, certain schools for certain kids.
- Thus succeed in legally maintaining segregated schools with some being predominately white, and others being predominately black/latino (with a few integrated ones to keep up the illusion of racial equality). Because hey Hakim Jones, you’re 10 miles out of our zone but you are within range of Underpaid Teachers and 40 Kids In A Class High School. Check that one out :)