On Black History Month

It is easy to lose sight of many things with all the hoopla that comes out of Washington, D.C. these days.  Things that might otherwise be front-page news, are relegated to a paragraph of small print somewhere in the clutter.  February is Black History Month in the U.S. and Canada, and it deserves attention, rather than being stuck in a dark corner filled with the smoke left by Washington politics.

black history quoe1The History:

The origins of Black History Month date back to 1926 when Harvard historian Carter G. Woodson declared the second week in February ‘Negro History Week’.  February was chosen as it coincided with the birthdates of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

Black History Month was first proposed by black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University in February 1969. The first celebration of Black History Month took place at Kent State one year later, in February 1970.

In 1976, during America’s bicentennial, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month, urging Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history”.

black history quote2The Purpose:

Some question the need for a special month during which to celebrate black history, but I would argue that historically in this nation, the contributions of African-Americans have been minimalized,  swept under the rug.  I grew up during the Civil Rights era, and I cannot recall during my primary or secondary education learning about the contributions of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, C.J. Walker, Bessie Coleman or others.  Yet, their lives contributed to what our nation has become just as much as any others.

This nation was founded on diversity, yet that concept seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way. No single race or its culture can define this nation, and to fully understand our history and who we are today, we need to be able to look at our past from a variety of perspectives.  And yet, we often fail to do that, we fail to recognize the contributions by Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, and African-Americans.

Black history (just like Hispanic, Asian, European, and Native history) belongs to all of us — black and white, men and women, young and old.  The impact African Americans have made on this country is part of our collective consciousness. Contemplating Black history draws people of every race into the grand and diverse story of this nation.

98f/42/hgmp/12704/tep039In 1964, author James Baldwin reflected on the shortcomings of his education. “When I was going to school, I began to be bugged by the teaching of American history because it seemed that that history had been taught without cognizance of my presence.”

This year, perhaps more than any in the past five decades, bigotry and racism are raising their ugly faces.  White supremacism is seemingly on the rise, and bigotry flows down from the highest office in the nation.  I think that now, more than at any time in our recent history, it is important for us to stop a minute, turn our attentions away from the three-ring circus in Washington, and remind ourselves of the contributions and achievements of our brothers and sisters who have given so much to this country.

Another year, I might have committed to a daily post to honour the contributions of African-Americans throughout this nation’s history.  This year, due to the toxic environment on which I feel compelled to opine, and with my limited visual acuity, I am unable to do so, but I plan at least a few posts about people who I think made special and interesting contributions, and I will include some trivia at the end of some of my other posts.  It is little enough, but hopefully you will learn at least one thing you didn’t already know about our history, our culture.

black history quoet3


30 thoughts on “On Black History Month

  1. Whilst I think President Ford’s intentions were noble at the time, I think clinging on to a “Month” has become redundant in that it draws very clear lines of distinction on a racial level – something which is already at the fore of today’s discussions enough!


  2. Dear Jill,

    I am thrilled that there is a Black History month with a reminder to honor our Black brothers and sisters who have added so much to the richness of this country. I am still saddened that many historical moments may have been missed because of the curse of racism in the USA, and that many of our brothers and sisters were denied the opportunity to reach their fullest potential that could have contributed so much more. We are less because of this.

    Hugs, Gronda


  3. Black history month is IMPORTANT, but it is as equally INSULTING!
    If we need Black History Month, we also need Aboriginal History Month, Hispanic History Month, Asian History Month, Latino History Month, Muslim History Month, Jewish History Month, Feminist History Month, and, to bring this to the height of absurdity, Poor Peoples’ History Year! And, please don’t forget, the whole damn world’s history millennium!
    I understand that history is always written by the victors, but not all history is about conflict. Most of the history of this world took place in peacetime, so where are the histories of peacetime advancements? Where is the history of LIFE?
    People are so species-centric, gender-centric, race-centric, religion-centric, and now America-centric that 85% of the world might as well not even exist! History itself is a farce, because, as we learn from “history,” it’s mostly FAKE NEWS anyway, my apologies to all Trump-haters everywhere, of which I proudly count myself one…
    Where in the world of South African politics is the most anti-apartheid revolutionary leader Stephen Bantu Biko? Even his name drools white supremacy! And without him South Africa would still be an apartheid nation. Trivia question #1: Who is Stephen Bantu Biko? (Even my spell-chek refuses to admit the word Bantu without changing it to Banta, whatever the hell Banta is!) How many Americans, black, white, or otherwise have even heard of him? 2nd trivia question: Who is Nelson Mandela? How many Americans have NOT heard of him? People make me sick!!!!!
    But no matter, Jill, fake history, false history, whatever, yes we need Black History Month, because everyone should know that America WAS NOT BUILT on White sweat alone, or White ingenuity. And no matter what Disillusion Trafficker wants people to think, America has never been just White, but all the Colours of the Spectrum, and anyone who disabuses that notion can stick their head back in their personal ostrich-holes, because that is the only part of their world’s worth seeing.

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    • You are quite right, rawgod, that the continuing shame is that we need a Black History Month to remind us, and enlighten us, to the fact that the U.S. has become what it is today through the blood, sweat and tears of all races, cultures and religions. And certainly the histories of others, such as Native Americans, Hispanics and Asians deserve to be spotlighted as well. This nation is still very much mired in bigotry, and I wonder if it may always be. sigh. Your points are well taken.


  4. An excellent article, certainly, but like all such forays into America’s mindset it immediately runs into serious trouble when there’s someone about who actually knows the real history of America – usually a non-American who has often tasted the foul breath of the imperial predator. The following offered as discussion, not as criticism.
    Quote: “This nation was founded on diversity, yet that concept seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way.”
    Quick note: this “diversity” was only for white, Christian Europeans and even then these were brought in to provide a growing industrial base’s cheap labour. Diversity strictly excluded all blacks since all were automatically slaves and forbidden to mix with whites. Excluded all native Americans since they were the enemy to be destroyed for their lands and resources needed by said industry. Excluded all Spanish Mexicans, two-thirds of whose nation was to be simply annexed by the new military industrial complex called the United States of America. Diversity did include the elites and the growing mostly white middle class needed by predatory capitalism to provide a source of consumerism.
    Black history month is a mission statement and I never had much use for such. If you unpin a mission statement poster from any wall in any corporate office, school foyer or church sanctuary you will find it hides a big black hole crawling with cockroaches.
    I look at what is really going on, not so much what is being said about what is going on. A nation does not become less racist, less homophobic, less misogynist by demonstrating and screaming for it resulting in some form of anaemic official recognition.
    Somewhere, someone, some nobody, has to say to herself or himself, “I’ve had enough of this bullshit. I’m going to open myself up, to care, to express compassion to anyone, regardless of race, creed, colour of skin, gender preferences, economic status, extending this to other species as well.” As your last quote says, that rebellious nobody will think like Maya Angelou and say, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world but has not solved one yet… so I’m done with that.”

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  5. Great post, Jill. I taught the history of both Canada and the USA for 35 years and I can attest to the need to educate people about our multiracial and multicultural identity – on both sides of the border.

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    • Thanks, John! I know that when I was homeschooling my granddaughter, not so many years ago, there was very little about the contributions of African-Americans in most history textbooks, so I set aside each February and we exclusively studied Black History. Would you be interested in doing a guest post for me on some of the people in Canada’s black history? If you don’t have time, I certainly understand, but the idea just came to me, and if you’re interested, I would love to feature it. Or, if you are dong one for your blog, I could just re-blog it. Either way … be fun to combine the two!

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      • How very kind of you, Jill! Actually, your post inspired me to begin each of my daily “John’s Believe It Or Not…” posts with a significant person in Canada’s Black History. However, If you like, I can put a few together for a single post – I’d be honored to be hosted on your site. Here’s my email: jfinwat@gmail.com – let me know what you think and we’ll make it happen! Thank you! Hugs!

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        • Awesome!!! I added your email address to my contact list, and I will email you tomorrow, as it is nearly 2:00 already tonight. I’m exited! I haven’t been to your blog since I wrote that piece, but will definitely go there tonight or in the morning to check out your pieces. Thanks again! Hugs!

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