Well, here we are nearing the end of Black History Month (aka African American History Month). Let’s just take a moment to reflect.
Carter G. Woodson
A decade after the Civil War ended, Carter Godwin Woodson was born, on December 19, 1875, in New Canton, Virginia. He was the son of illiterate former slaves, Anne Eliza (née Riddle) and James Henry Woodson. During the Civil War, Mr. Woodson (Carter’s father) had helped Union fighters. At the time of Carter’s birth, he was supporting his family by working as a carpenter and farmer.
Not only did young Carter have work to do on the farm, he also worked in the West Virginia coal mines. He wasn’t able to regularly attend school. However, in the free time that he had, he was able to teach himself – and master – most of his subjects.
Carter Woodson graduated from Berea College. Woodson gained graduate degrees from the University of Chicago. He became a teacher and a school administrator. In 1912, at the age of 37, he distinguished himself by becoming the second African American to obtain a PhD from Harvard University. The first was W. E. B. Du Bois.
In the entire history of the United States, only one child of former slaves has earned a PhD. That child is Carter G. Woodson. It goes without saying that Woodson valued education.
Most of Dr. Woodson’s career was spent at the HBCU Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he ultimately served as the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Bessie Woodson Yancey
Bessie Woodson Yancey was born seven years after her brother, in 1882. She was the noted poet who authored Echoes from the hills: A book of poems), teacher and an activist.
What Is An HBCU?
“The Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, defines an HBCU as: ‘ . . . any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education] to be a reliable authority as to the quality of training offered or is, according to such an agency or association, making reasonable progress toward accreditation.’” (U.S. Department of Education, https://sites.ed.gov/whhbcu/one-hundred-and-five-historically-black-colleges-and-universities/)
The Father of Black History
Often referred to as the “Father of Black History,” Dr. Woodson was an American historian, author, and journalist. He went on to found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH)).
Dr. Woodson and some of his colleagues realized it was time to acknowledge the role in U.S. History of people of African descent. They set about making this information known not only to people of color but the to the general public. It is due to their efforts that we have this month-long period of recognition.
It has been almost 100 years since, in 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History declared the second week of February to be recognized as “Negro History Week.”
It was Dr. Woodson’s contention that to teach Black History was essential to ensure the physical and intellectual survival of the race. To that end, in his 1933 book, The Miseducation of the American Negro, he said this:
“When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions, you do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it.”
By that statement, it seems to me that Dr. Woodson meant people of color were/are mis-educated to believe they are inferior, so they treat themselves in ways that reflect that inferiority. On the other hand, when someone has been taught about his/her history, and knows who they are and where they came from, their self-assessment is such that they cannot be controlled by someone else and/or relegated to what someone else considers his/her “proper place.”
In The Beginning
Black History Month has grown out of Woodson’s original vision: Black History Week. It is a time set out for recognizing the input all over the world of people of African descent.
The first celebration of Black History Month took place at Kent State University, in Kent, Ohio, in 1970, running from January 2 to February 28. Black History Month was being “unofficially” celebrated in educational institutions, large and small centers of Black culture and community centers all across the country.
In 1976, during the celebration of the United States’ Bicentennial, President Gerald Ford officially set forth the month of February as Black History Month. At that time, the President asked America to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Thus, February has been continually acknowledged as Black History Month for the past 46 years. BHM has now been adopted by other countries around the globe.
Why Is It In February?
Have you ever wondered why BHM is in February? It takes place in this month to honor Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are celebrated in February.
Have a look at this 2021 tweet from RetroNewsNow.
Lincoln and Douglass
While we know that Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in Larue County, Kentucky, unfortunately, we don’t know the exact date of Douglass’ birth. We just know that he was born a slave in Talbot County, Maryland, to Harriet Bailey, in February of 1818 or 1819, and that, sometime later, he was given to his grandmother, Betty Bailey, to raise.
Since the 19th century, Black groups have celebrated Douglass’ birthday on February 14, and, now, beginning this year (2022), his birthday will be officially celebrated on that date.
Other Countries Also Celebrate Black History Month
In 1995, Canada’s House of Commons officially recognized February as Black History Month and honored Black Canadians. Thereafter, in 2008, a motion by Canadian Senator Donald Oliver to have the Senate officially recognize Black History Month was unanimously approved.
As in the U.S., Black History Month is celebrated in Canada during the month of February, where they celebrate “the achievements and contributions of Black Canadians and their communities who . . . have done so much to take make Canada a culturally diverse, compassionate, and prosperous country.”
The Black German community in Berlin, Germany, started observing BHM in 1990, and this has spread to other cities throughout Germany.
Republic of Ireland also celebrates Black History Month. This is a quote from Wikipedia: “‘Black History Month Ireland was initiated in Cork in 2010. This location seems particularly appropriate as, in the 19th century, the city was a leading center of abolition, and the male and female anti-slavery societies welcomed a number of black abolitionists to lecture there, including Charles Lenox Remond and Frederick Douglass.’” (Wikipedia.org)
The first Black History Month celebration in the United Kingdom, occurred in October 1987, and has continued to do so every October, saluting the African tradition of African Chiefs meeting in October to settle conflicts and come to agreements.
Legacy of African Americans
There have been many leaders in industry, science, politics, and culture, who have contributed to the good of the world, and are honored this month, including Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Carter G. Woodson, and Bishop Desmond Tutu. These are only a few individuals who are unknown or unsung.
Almost a Century
It has been almost 100 years since, in 1926, the American historian Carter Godwin Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History declared the second week of February to be recognized as “Negro History Week.”
Dr. Carter G. Woodson passed away on April 3, 1950, at the age of 75.
A Good Thing
Here’s an idea: We humans learn from our fur buddies to simply take each other at face value. In that spirit, we accept ourselves and we accept others, and maybe we could also allow ourselves to all recognize the magnificent value that we each bring to the planet.
If we could do just that one thing, we could experience an expanded awareness that would lift us up out of the mire of meanness, hatred, jealousy, lack of trust, fear, ignorance (etc., etc.) that now imprison us.
Freed, we can individually and collectively soar as the beings we are created to be.
Constitution Daily, https://constitutioncenter.org, Article: The Story Behind the Frederick Douglass Birthday Celebration, by Scott Bomboy, February 14, 2021
Gale Literature Research Center, https://go.gale.com, Article: Bessie Woodson Yancey, African-American poet and social critic, Author: Katharine Capshaw Smith, Summer 2008, Appalachian Heritage (Vol. 36, Issue 3), Published by University of North Carolina Press
History, https://www.history.com, Article: Black History Month, History.com Editors, Updated January 31, 2022; Original January 14, 2020
Syracuse University, https://news.syr.edu/the-peel, Article: What You Might Not Know About Black History Month, Written by Jewél Jackson ’20, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Black History Month Planning Committee Member