Black History Month at Collegiate

Black History Month artwork. Courtesy of Valdosta State University.

In celebration of Black History Month, Collegiate’s Mosaic Club invited all upper school students and faculty to attend a debate on the importance of Black History Month on Tuesday, February 23 during Creative Flex. Before the discussion, Mosaic showed video clips on the subject, including a speech by President Obama and an interview with Morgan Freeman. In his speech, Obama also urged people to avoid celebration through short lists and highlights of African-American achievements. Instead he suggested seeking the root of the commemoration, which he describes as the “shared experience of all African Americans and how those experiences have shaped, and challenged, and ultimately strengthened America.” He says, “Black History Month shouldn’t be treated as though it is somehow separate from our collective American history.” Freeman finds Black History Month “ridiculous.” Similar to Obama, he does not want his entire history to be stripped down to fit into one month because, “black history is American history.” He thinks that Americans should not inherently divide people achievements by race: “Dr. Martin Luther King is not a black hero. He is an American hero.”

Forefather of Black History Month, historian, author, and journalist Carter G. Woodson used education, including a degree from Harvard University, to leave behind the poverty that came from being the son of former slaves. Discovering that African-Americans were often neglected or misrepresented in American history classes and books, Woodson founded what is now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History and published The Journal of African American History. In 1926, he organized the first ever Black History Week, in February. The week included the birthdays of both former president Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. February was officially recognized as Black History Month by President Gerald Ford in 1976.

Carter G. Woodson. Courtesy of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum.

Today, the month is used to recognize the often forgotten achievements of African-Americans throughout history. The overall consensus of the Mosaic meeting was that, in an ideal world, American history would not be divided by race, and it would not be necessary to condense all of African-American history into 28 (or 29) days of recognition. Liz Bowling, Upper School Spanish teacher and Mosaic faculty sponsor believes, “we should be infusing the histories of all people, including African Americans, into all parts our curriculum, so that ultimately a month honoring one group of people and their accomplishments would not be necessary.” Avery Freeman (‘18) says that Black History Month is a “crucial period of acknowledgement” because “many African Americans made technological, social, and industrial advances during a time of suppression, [but] their innovations and ideas were put down rather than praised.” For example, African-American inventor Lewis Latimer invented the carbon filament in light bulbs, and Granville Woods invented multiplex telegraph, but history books often credit Thomas Edison, William Fothergill Cooke, and Charles Wheatstone with these accomplishments.

Liz Bowling believes that, “while the curriculum at Collegiate and society as a whole have evolved significantly in recent years to include more diverse voices, there are always improvements to be made.” She says, “often we overlook or even deny the accomplishments and contributions of African Americans and other Americans of diverse backgrounds, choosing to focus on white culture, history, and literature.” Growing up as a white American, Bowling studied many role models of her own ethnicity in school. Had she been African-American, she believes, “role models [of my race] would be highlighted with such infrequency, that I would feel my ethnic and cultural background was being dismissed or deemed as less important.”

In the past, Collegiate has recognized the Black History Month through assemblies including speakers on jazz in New Orleans, the Civil Rights Movement through the story of guest Julia Speaks, and a discussion regarding Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This year, however, there was no full assembly due to time constraints. Mike Boyd, Director of Performing Arts and Calendaring, says that the lack of assembly was “not intentional.” Mosaic faculty co-sponsor (and Director of International Programs and Dean of Student Life) Erica Coffey the hopes that next year’s Black History Month recognition will be, “supported by administration and student-initiated.” She believes black history should be included in curriculum year round and Collegiate students and faculty should be “aware of why we have Black History Month.”

About the author

Elizabeth Murphy is a junior at Collegiate.