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Established as Negro History week in the late 1920s and founded by historian and scholar Carter G. Woodson, February was designated as Black History Month to honor the contributions of African Americans in American history. Initially, celebrated as the second week of February to coexist with abolitionist Frederick Douglas’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays, it later became a month-long celebration in 1976. However, Black History Month has faced criticism for only celebrating the black community, as some people have questioned the purpose and importance of the commemoration.
Over the years, Black History Month has received some backlash. Some people disagree with the concept, believing it’s exclusive and unfair to other races, and others neglect to see the significance of the month. Despite these thoughts on Black History Month, black history is important because it allows us to recognize that black history is America’s history. It shows that African Americans’ contribution to America’s history goes beyond slavery and civil rights. It permits us to learn about black heritage, important figures, and movements that are not always taught in the classroom.
One purpose of Black History Month is to honor historic leaders who have helped the black community. It recognizes people other than Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman. It is an opportunity to highlight historical leaders who have been overlooked in history. Many black leaders and activists, like civil rights attorney Oliver Hill, Bass Reeves, the first black lawmen of the West, and Benjamin Davis, the first black general in the US Army, are example of names that deserve more recognition.
Celebrating black history allows us to focus on the positives of African American culture that are sometimes overlooked by negative stereotypes. It is easy to lose sight of the positive aspects of a culture that is sometimes undermined through media, poverty, incarceration rates, rappers, and athletes. Black History Month allows us to learn about people who defy those negative connotations. Black engineers like Lewis Latimer, the inventor of carbon filament, and Garrett Morgan, inventor of the traffic light and gas mask, are prime examples of black men who rose above negative stereotypes and paved the way for others. Notable figures such as Rebecca Lee, the first African American female physician, and Daniel Williams, the first black surgeon to successfully complete open heart surgery, encourage blacks to become doctors. Names and legacies like these are often overlooked.
Black History Month is a time for us, as African Americans to honor our legacy. It’s a time for us ponder on the past and understand the struggle that was fought. It’s for our generation to understand the importance of our freedom and the importance of every step that was marched in a protest and every decision made for boycotting. It’s a time for us to respect the ideas of black pride and black excellence that our ancestors thrived on. Most importantly, it’s a time for us to be proud of our skin that isolated us from society for decades.
Black History Month is not just to celebrate our achievements as African Americans, but to celebrate the lives of the untold. The untold stories that were silenced through slavery, the Middle Passage, and segregation. It’s to honor the slaves from whom freedom was taken, to weep for ones whose lives ended, and to commend the ones who were able to see another day. Black History Month memorializes the 400 years of slavery that our ancestors conquered just to see their children endure another 60 years of segregation. It’s to applaud the ones who rose above the norm and fought and continued to fight for equality and justice that paved the way for the next generation.
Featured image courtesy of weibo.com.