February is Black History Month, which celebrates the history and contributions of black Americans in this country. It stems from Negro History Week, which was created by the “father of black history,” Dr. Carter G. Woodson, in Feb. 1926. Woodson picked the month of February since it was the birth month of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. It became Black History Month under President Gerald Ford in 1976.
Every February the question comes up, is Black History Month still needed? Some argue that it isn’t, calling it divisive and pointing out the strides blacks have made in this country since slavery and the civil rights movement. Even some African-Americans agree. In a 2005 interview on ‘60 Minutes’ Mike Wallace, Morgan Freeman called it “ridiculous,” continuing, “You’re going to relegate my history to a month? I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.”
Yes, black history is American history. However, as the old saying goes, history repeats itself and from our current political climate, it is clear that we have not learned from it yet. Some say we are now living in a post-racial society— after all, we did elect our first black president in 2008, black women are the most educated group in the United States, with 64 % holding bachelor’s degrees and a lot has changed since our ancestors got here.
But how much progress have we actually made? We have a president who attacks black NFL players for protesting racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem but has called white nationalists “very fine people.” And let’s not forget that he is the one who first questioned the legitimacy of former President Obama with the birther movement.There are still mass disparities in wealth between blacks and whites in this country. The incarceration rate of black men is five times that of white men, with black men serving longer sentences than white men for the same crime. There have been numerous killings of unarmed black men by police officers with few police convictions.We are clearly not past race in this country. You can’t talk about black history without having an honest conversation about our country’s racist history.
Woodson believed that acknowledging the accomplishments of African-Americans was the key to combating racism. In his book “The Mis-Education of the Negro” he says, “Race prejudice is merely the logical result of tradition, the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind. Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”
Woodson is right. Dedicating a month out of the year to acknowledge the accomplishments of black Americans counteracts the negative stereotypes of blacks and racial tension. I would love to see a time where this country is so inclusive that Black History Month is no longer needed, but our country isn’t ready yet. Right now we need Black History Month more than ever.