The Equity Beat: The history of Black History Month

Historian Carter Woodson, who started Negro History Week in 1926.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Historian Carter Woodson, who started “Negro History Week” in 1926.

by Rose Guan, Winged Post Copy Editor

What is Black History Month?

Black History Month, observed annually in the U.S. in February, aims to remember, celebrate and spotlight both historical and contemporary figures and events in the history and culture of black people worldwide.

The month is often observed with performances, speaker series and gatherings that discuss black history or celebrate black artists.

African-American historian Carter Woodson named the second week of February “Negro History Week” in 1926. In 1969, students at the Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, proposed an expansion of the week to Black History Month. Also known as African American History Month, it was first celebrated in 1970 and first recognized by the U.S. government in 1976.

For many, the month provides a time to recognize the important role that members of the African diaspora have played in American history and the progress of civil rights movements working to attain equality around the world.

“I saw the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ a few weeks ago, and that happened in the 1960s and they’re just now getting the recognition that they should have gotten years ago,” Wynter Chaverst (10) said, referring to the film about the African-American mathematicians and engineers who helped NASA win the space race. “Black History Month lets you know about all of the African-American people who have done so many amazing things in life and have never gotten any recognition for it.”

Although Black History Month has been criticized by people who say that it is counterproductive or unfair to have a month dedicated to the history of a single race, history teacher and Diversity Committee Mark Janda believes that it should continue to be celebrated until racial equality is attained.

“It was [started] to draw attention to a really important history that is so often left out of the history books,” Janda said. “Black History Month is a necessity as long as that story goes untold way too often. Once we reach a point where that story is just simply part of the American story and it truly gets celebrated, then the necessity for having Black History Month would be gone—but we’re a long, long way from that.”

Black History Month was officially recognized in Canada in 2008 and in the U.K., where it is observed in October, in 1987.

How to participate

There are many ways Californians can contribute to the spirit of Black History Month, such as discussing African-American achievements and history, supporting black-owned businesses, working to combat racism, participating in events affiliated with Black History Month and joining others in remembering the important contributions and culture of African-Americans.

Many organizations will host informative and celebratory events in honor of Black History Month. The California African American Museum in Los Angeles will host free public events throughout the month, for instance, and the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley will present a series dedicated to the month. The African American History House is located in San Jose.

Online or on television, several websites and news organizations will cover Black History Month with profiles, videos, podcasts or articles about black accomplishments, culture and history. Both PBS and KQED Public Television, for example, will be showing special broadcasts over the course of the month.