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Do We Still Need Black History Month?

by Richard Beck

Author Richard Beck wrote this article about Black History Month for the Herald Sun newspaper.

Black History Month is a celebration of important people and events in the history of African-Americans and is commemorated in the United States in February.

It was originated in 1926 by historian Carter G. Woodson, the founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, as “Negro History Week” after he found little of the history of Black Americans in books he studied at Harvard University. In 1976 the organization extended the week to a month-long observance.

But both Black and white critics raise the question: Is Black History Month still needed?

“It’s necessary because African-American history isn’t yet fully integrated into American history,” Black author Mel Watkins declared. “The irony of it is that we still have to have a Black History Month to remind people that we have a history.” Another author, David Dent, disagrees. “Black history is intrinsically American, so much broader than just one month,” Dent said. “It has become a tradition, but we have to seriously consider the question, ‘Is it time to move on?'”

Charles Quist-Adade, a professor at Wayne State University, stated, “The myth that Africa’s history began with the arrival of the Europeans and that Africans had achieved nothing and had no culture before then is a part of the more insidious myth of racial inferiority which seeks to provide an excuse for master-servant relationships and domination of one race by another.”

Kimberly Pollock, an educator in Washington State, claims, “Sometimes what’s missing does as much damage as what’s misconstrued. When you’re learning about history and the Founding Fathers and people who’ve done great things, the fact that there are Black people missing leads one to think they haven’t done great things.”

But another voice, actor Morgan Freeman, in an interview on 60 Minutes, said that the whole concept of a month dedicated to Black history is “ridiculous.” “You’re going to relegate my history to a month?” he asked. “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.” He further noted that there is no “White History Month,” and the only way to get rid of racism is to “stop talking about it.”

In agreement is Andrew P. Jackson, president of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. “By now we shouldn’t have to remind anyone of the contributions of Black people. We should be past that, but we’re not—not until you can go to school and not have to take African-American classes, not until you can go to classes and learn about Langston Hughes as part of American literature instead of African-American literature.”

In 2009, the new Black attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, said, “Black history is a subject worthy of study by all our nation’s people. Blacks have played a unique, productive role in the development of America. Perhaps the greatest strength of the United States is the diversity of its people, and to truly understand this country, one must have knowledge of its constituent parts. But an unstudied, not discussed, and ultimately misunderstood diversity can become a divisive force. An appreciation of the unique Black past, acquired through the study of Black history, will help lead to understanding and true compassion in the present, where it is still so sorely needed, and to a future where all of our people are truly valued.”

Attempting to bridge the arguments, Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, offered: “Black History Month feels especially significant this year. At too many points in our national experience, Black history and American history have seemed to tell different stories. But when President Obama took the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2009, many were quick to point out that it was a historic day for Black Americans and for all Americans. Two million multicolored faces of all ages cheering together on the National Mall seemed to confirm that this was a moment when the threads of our separate stories were finally woven together in a new quest for unity and community as one people. Everywhere one looked during Inauguration weekend were reminders of how Black history and American history had converged.”

Perhaps the final words should be left to Woodson, who wrote in 1926, “We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice.”

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