Why I’m a Black Man Against Black History Month

Carter G. Woodson, often cited as the "father of black history." Carter G. Woodson, often cited as the "father of black history."

This piece is partially inspired by A Black History Month Challenge, something I hope everyone reading this will participate in. The Black community isn’t a monolith, but we generally appreciate the purpose of Black History Month. But I also think it’s healthy to question things you have long taken for granted.

It isn’t so much that I’m against the institution of Black History Month but that I desire far more when it comes to integrating “our story” into the collective conscious of our society. The origins of Black History Month come from Negro History Week, a ninety-year-old bandage solution that doesn’t effectively address chronic distortions about Blacks found in history books, public school programs, and culturally transmitted general knowledge of US history.

The tradition that evolved into Black History Month was never about needing an event to “commemorate how special we are.” Rather, a primary purpose of this annual observance was meant to combat the marginalization and erasure of our people’s influence in and contributions to US history that aren’t being taught in school.

Because historian Carter G. Woodson was well-versed in the dynamics of power, privilege, and oppression, he was outspoken against white supremacist history books as well as critical of the way schools indoctrinate students with white-oriented, anti-black education. This frustration inspired him to author his definitive and constructive critique of the educational system, The Mis-Education of the Negro.

Led by Woodson, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) sought to do something about the way society devalued Black history and in 1926, proclaimed the second week of February “Negro History Week” to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Woodson wanted to capitalize off the tradition of celebrating this particular time to increase the likelihood of success. (So no, Black History Month isn’t observed in the shortest month of the year as a malevolent conspiracy.)

Over time, Negro History Week was adopted by education departments nationwide and, for that week, used literature and themes provided by the ASALH to incorporate instruction on the African diaspora. In the following decades, the ASALH pushed for integrating history curriculum in public schools to no avail. By the late 1960s, Black youth began pushing for month-long celebrations that ultimately led to the ASALH also promoting the change. In 1976, fifty years after the first Negro History Week, the US government officially recognized “Black History Month.”

It’s now 2016, forty years removed from the first official Black History Month. Sadly, many are resting on their laurels as if there’s no more work to be done. The goal of Woodson’s vision was to incorporate Black history into history classes that today still fail to teach a more evenhanded account of the past. The official statement from ASALH regarding the origins of Black History Month even states:

Woodson believed that the weekly celebrations—not the study or celebration of black history—would eventually come to an end. In fact, Woodson never viewed black history as a one-week affair. He pressed for schools to use Negro History Week to demonstrate what students learned all year. In the same vein, he established a black studies extension program to reach adults throughout the year.

It was in this sense that blacks would learn of their past on a daily basis that he looked forward to the time when an annual celebration would no longer be necessary. Generations before Morgan Freeman and other advocates of all-year commemorations, Woodson believed that black history was too important to America and the world to be crammed into a limited timeframe.

There’s adverse effects to these limitations. One notable consequence is the hero worship of a handful of prominent figures. What’s more, these particular stories tend to be sanitized and this selective representation is often at the expense of erasing a rich legacy of individuals, groups, and movements just as important.

An illustration of hero worship is found in the warped remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that still plagues our cultural imagination. This distortion was confronted in Twitter’s #ReclaimMLK tag during Dr. King’s holiday weekend. Contrary to popular belief, Dr. King’s cause was as reviled then as the Black Lives Matter movement is in present times.

Often missing from the mythic narrative surrounding Dr. King’s memory are his references to the “bad check” the US has written Blacks, how he owned an arsenal of guns and approved of armed self-defense against white terrorism, his criticisms of white supremacy and white privilege, an initiative to aid economic justice for the poor, and his very pro-social justice views.

And that’s just one man. Consider all the other tainted, lesser known, or unknown stories.

This is why professor and former civil rights era activist Charles E. Cobb Jr. once said, “The way the public understands the civil rights movement can be boiled down to one sentence: Rosa sat down, Martin stood up, then the white folks saw the light and saved the day.”

Does this mean we do away with Black History Month right now and never look back? No, not really.

While Black history is part and parcel to US history and ought to be taught as such, we haven’t yet reached the point where this nation’s history is recognized in a more authentic and integrated way. It’s difficult to achieve the goal of integration when everyday racism and anti-blackness propaganda leads to white-centered accounts of past events. I get why it’s become vogue in recent years but “post-racial America” is a fantasy we haven’t yet attained.

If we’re to one day do away with Black History Month—and I hope that day comes sooner rather than later—then understanding why the initiative got started helps. Next, we all must do our part to counteract the social disease of miseducation that greatly limits positive portrayals of blackness as well as the numerous times Blacks have impacted American culture and politics. Our influence on the direction and ethos of this nation includes our struggle against systemic degradation as well as the work of Black reformers, intellectuals, and educators.

The spirit of Black History Month should exist within school history curriculums to groom younger generations to be more socially aware. We need to promote critical examinations of a more unadulterated history. When educators, publishers, policy makers, and the media cease trying to deemphasize the role of slavery in the Civil War, reimagine slavery in more palatable ways, mischaracterize slaves’ complicity in their oppression, downplay the persistence of racism, require a “positive spin” on history, and dissolve anti-black media bias, then we can begin real talks of ending Black History Month.

We must face our past and current issues with racial inequalities more honestly and do a better job of highlighting positive portrayals of Blacks and their achievements. Until then, the objective of Black History Month will remain confined to a twenty-eight day observation rather than function on a more extensive level permeating history classes, reports, and memories.

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  • DMD

    I know it’s trivial, but with ” into the collective conscious ” – I think you meant “conscience”.

    • frenchtoastgirl

      No, either is correct. 🙂

  • H7845

    Excellent Article!

  • mcbleiweiss

    This discussion misses the real mission of public education. It is not to produce a population of broadly educated critical thinkers ready to step up and run a democratic society. It’s real purpose is to produce a cadre of docile workers who will accept the status quo of a small wealthy and corporate elite who control the world’s political and economic systems for their own benefit.

    Maintaining blacks and other minorities as an underclass helps to placate the white majority and prevent them from seeing that they are really just as oppressed.

  • Craig

    Great article Sincere. Keep up the good work.

  • mdhome

    I did a report on George Washington Carver when in grade school nearly 60 years ago in a sate that had less than 1% black. I think my education must have been more complete than many others.

  • TG414

    Back YahooNEWS Share

    Yahoo News Video
    Now I Get It: Black History Month
    Every February, Black History Month is observed in the U.S. to celebrate the contributions of black Americans throughout the nation’s history. Yahoo News and Finance Anchor Bianna Golodryga explains its origins.
    NOW I GET IT
    214
    The origins of Black History Month

    Bianna Golodryga
    February 5, 2016
    By Kaye Foley
    Every February, Black History Month, or National African-American History Month, is observed in the U.S. to celebrate and honor the contributions and impact of black Americans throughout the nation’s history.
    Until the 20th century, black history was mostly absent or misrepresented. In 1915, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the son of former slaves who had become a scholar and a historian, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. It’s now known as the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History. This organization produced The Journal of African-American History (as its called now), which compiled articles about the black men and women whose achievements had been untold.
    In 1926, the association expanded its efforts to tell these stories and created “Negro History Week.” This week eventually became Black History Month as we know it today.
    The second week in February was chosen because it coincided with the birthdays of two prominent figures in history — Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
    Over the decades, the weeklong commemoration spread to schools and communities across the country. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s helped bring the week to a broader audience. And in 1976, it expanded to Black History Month, with Gerald Ford being the first president to endorse it. He said, “I urge my fellow citizens to join me in tribute to Black History Month and to the message of courage and perseverance it brings to all of us.”
    Nowadays, some argue that Black History Month is no longer necessary or that it gives the impression that black history should be acknowledged only for a single month. But others say it’s important to have a dedicated time to honor and recognize people who had been left out from the history books for so long.
    READ MORE
    #now-i-get-it#video#kaye-foley

    Comment GuidelinesPost
    TOPRECENT
    AdrianAdrian38 minutes ago
    Here is an aspect of black history the liberals have tried to ‘delete’, Book Burn, from US History.
    Blacks, a 12% minority, acquired their Vast Powers over America by the ‘liberal’ use of Violence and Terrorism. Blacks committed 5,000 race riots 1963-1973 to “Win” their civil rights laws. IE Terrorist laws. Here’s just a few of those many thousands.
    A few of the many, many riots of 1964, as an example of what those 10 years were like.
    1. New York City–July 18-23–1 killed–144 injured–519 arrested– 541 stores damaged!
    2. Rochester–July 24-25–4 killed–350 injured– 976 arrested–204 stores damaged.
    3. Jersey City–August 2-4–46 injured–52 arrested– 71 stores damaged.
    4. Paterson–August 11-13–8 injured–65 arrested–20 stores damaged.
    5. Elizabeth–August 11-13–6 injured–18 arrested–17 stores damaged.
    6. Chicago (Dixmoor) August 16-17–57 injured–80 arrested–2 stores damaged.
    7. Philadelphia–August 28-30– 341 injured–774 arrested–225 stores damaged.
    PS. How blacks got their civil rights laws passed.
    From Congressional Record, as DC burned 1968. Rep. Edwards of Alabama
    “In this atmosphere of violence, riots, looting, and burning, charged with emotions, we are asked to legislated. People are saying that now we must pass the civil rights bill. And we are told that it must be done now —- without proper debate. Just pass it and get the riots stopped. But what happens then? Where does it stop? Must we pass a new law every time there is a riot?”
    From the US Congressional Record;
    Rep Dowdy (D-Texas) As DC Burned; 1968:
    “Let us not forget that the police power has broken down under racial attack in the past few days….do we really want to create this situation in the suburbs? We are being asked to forget the Constitution, to destroy the private property system on which our nation has been built, and to further endanger the life and limb of our citizenry, young and old, to grant special privileges to a 10% minority group.”
    Reply30
    Bozack JonesBozack Jones5 hours ago
    Black History Month is a time to remember and celebrate the fact that the first slave owner in the colonies that would become the USA….was a black man from blackest Africa:
    Anthony Johnson (BC 1600 – 1670) was an Angolan who achieved freedom in the early 17th century Colony of Virginia.
    Johnson was captured in his native Angola by an enemy tribe and sold to Arab (Muslim) slave traders. He was eventually sold as an indentured servant to a merchant working for the Virginia Company.
    Sometime after 1635, Antonio and Mary gained their freedom from indenture. Antonio changed his name to Anthony Johnson.
    In 1651 Anthony Johnson owned 250 acres, and the services of four white and one black indentured servants. The black indentured servant John Casor (Casar, Cazarao and Corsala) demanded that Johnson release him after his seven years of indenture.
    In March of 1654, according to Delmarva Settlers, Anthony’s servant, a man named John Casar requested that Johnson release him from his indenture because it had long expired past the usual seven years. Johnson replied that he knew of no indenture and that Casar was to be his servant for life. Anthony Johnson’s neighbors, George and Robert Parker, stated that they knew of another indenture for the said Casar to a planter on the other side of the bay. They continued to threaten Johnson with the loss of the servant’s cattle if he were to deny him his freedom. Johnson, with the influence from his family, released the servant, and even went to see that John Casar received his freedom dues. Freedom dues are materials and supplies given to the freed person in order for them to start their new lives with the necessary materials. In the case of John Casar, clothing and corn. But after careful reflection, Johnson was certain that Casar was his servant for life; a slave. Johnson then sued the Parker brothers for unlawfully taking his property from him, and since there were no other indentures for John Casar, he was returned to the Johnsons.
    The courts ruled in favor of Anthony Johnson and declared John Casor his property in 1655. Casor became the first person of African descent in Britain’s Thirteen Colonies to be declared as a slave for life as the result of Johnson’s civil suit.
    In the case of Johnson v. Parker, the court of Northampton County upheld Johnson’s right to hold Casor as a slave, saying in its ruling of 8 March 1655:
    “This daye Anthony Johnson negro made his complaint to the court against Mr. Robert Parker and declared that hee deteyneth his servant John Casor negro under the pretence that said negro was a free man. The court seriously consideringe and maturely weighing the premisses, doe fynde that the saide Mr. Robert Parker most unjustly keepeth the said Negro from Anthony Johnson his master … It is therefore the Judgement of the Court and ordered That the said John Casor Negro forthwith returne unto the service of the said master Anthony Johnson, And that Mr. Robert Parker make payment of all charges in the suit.”
    Show Replies (1)Reply70
    ForgettaboutitForgettaboutit8 hours ago
    re: ”The origins of Black History Month”, Yahoo News, February 05, 2016.
    The following lengthy, but worthwhile, is a pertinent news story from Top Right News dot-com in February, 2015 . . .
    One of the world’s most famous black actors was not impressed with the “celebration.” Some time ago, Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman appeared on “60 Minutes” and revealed his surprising views on having a month dedicated to African American history.
    Famed Journalist Mike Wallace asked the famous actor his opinion on the idea:

    “Black History Month, you find … ?”
    Morgan Freeman gave a one-word answer: “Ridiculous.”
    “Why?” asked the veteran news reporter.
    “You’re going to relegate my history to a month?” asked Freeman. “What do you do with yours? Which month is white history month? No, come on, tell me,” he continued.
    “Well, I’m Jewish,” responded Mike Wallace.
    Freeman kept pressuring for an answer. “Okay. Which month is Jewish history month?”
    “There isn’t one,” replied Wallace.
    “Oh. Oh, why not? Do you want one?” asked Morgan Freeman in response.
    Wallace said “No.”
    “I don’t either,” explained Freeman. “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.”
    A clearly surprised Wallace then moved right into the larger topic of racism, to which Freeman gave one of the greatest answers on the subject ever uttered:

    “How are we going to get rid of racism and — ”
    “Stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man, and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man,” said Freeman.
    “I know you as Mike Wallace. You know me as Morgan Freeman. You want to say, `Well, I know this white guy named Mike Wallace?’ You know what I’m saying?” he asked.
    We do indeed.
    That interview took place way back in 2005, but Freeman’s continues to shred liberal stereotypes on race to this day.
    Recently, Freeman appeared on CNN and was interviewed by Don Lemon. The topic of racism came up yet again. this time in the context of wealth distribution and Blacks:
    Lemon asked Freeman if race kept Black people from obtaining wealth in a presumably racist America. Freeman would have none of it.
    “Today? No. You and I. We’re proof,” replied Freeman. “Why would race have anything to do with it? Put your mind to what you want to do and go for that.”
    Freeman is 100 percent right.
    If you agree with Morgan Freeman’s stance on racism, please share this article with your friends on Facebook. (End of news story).

  • jackie

    Thank you