As February comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on the evolving and crucial role that Black History Month continues to play in America. The month kicked off with Clueless star, Stacey Dash, proclaiming that “there shouldn’t be a Black History Month.” This statement, in combination with the disproportionate amount of backlash that Beyoncé has received, prompted me to dedicate this week’s post to the history and celebration of Black History Month.
I’d like to start by reminding readers that the history of African Americans in this country began with the enslavement of African persons during the colonial period. This is a fact that I feel people wish to ignore during Black History Month, perhaps because it makes them uncomfortable. And it should! America’s historical enslavement of its own people is detestable and distressing. Many have argued that slave trade was the “economic engine” that helped to “fuel American prosperity.” This unfortunate part of our history is made worse by the fact that the immeasurable contributions of African Americans during the colonial period was largely and actively ignored for most of our history. It is a history that Americans cannot and should not ignore.
Now, I would like to give a brief overview of Black History Month, because Black history is American history and it’s important. Black History Month began in 1915 when the historian, Carter G. Woodson, and minister, Jesse E. Moorland, founded the “Association for the Study of Negro Life and History,” in order to research and publicize the achievements of Black Americans. This association led to the creation of “Negro History Week,” which took place during the second week of February in order to commemorate the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
Negro History Week continued to garner support in the decades following its inception. By the 1960s, it had evolved to encompass the entire month of February on many college campuses. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially designated February as Black History Month, noting that Americans should, “Seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” All US Presidents since have continued the tradition of dedicating the month of February as Black History Month and outlining certain themes they find pertinent. For example, Obama heavily emphasized the need for a more nuanced understanding of Black history in his Black History Month Reception this February, noting that African American achievements are, “more than a compilation of greatest hits.”
The increased depiction of Black identity in pop culture this month has some saying this was the “best Black History Month ever.” I’d like to end this post by recounting the top five moments that celebrated Black identity, culture, and history this February.
- Director and producer, Nate Parker, kicked off the month a little early with his January 25th premier of The Birth of Nation at Sundance Film Festival. This film tells the story of the slave rebellion led by Nat Turner in 1831. This film is the first contender for the Oscars in 2017, ironically enough considering the continuing conflict of…
- #OscarsSoWhite: the conversation about the lack of representation and diversity in Hollywood films and award shows has continued to develop throughout this month. This controversy seems to have made a significant impact, considering the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences unanimously voted to double the amount of women and minorities in the organization by 2020.
- The release of Beyoncé’s formation video and her Super Bowl 50 Half-time performance brought the celebration of Black identity and culture into the forefront of American’s minds. In case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s a recap of why these two pieces were so relevant.
- Kendrick Lamar’s dramatic Grammy performance addressed several issues facing our larger culture. He visually underscored issues around the justice system by his incorporation of chains into his choreography, referencing the chains of slavery and incarceration.
- The American Girl company released a new doll this month. This doll (with accompanying historical narrative) will tell the story of Melody Ellison, a nine-year-old, African American, girl, growing up in Detroit during 1960s Civil Rights Era. Even fictional narratives, such as this, are important in remembering and understanding the experience of Americans that shaped our country today.
Black history does not begin and end in February. This month is meant to be a time for celebration and recognition of a portion of American history that was too long silenced. It’s my hope that readers use this post as a starting off point to explore a foundational cornerstone of our history as Americans.