By Joy Hanna
From the enslaved African Americans brought overseas in the early 17th century to African Americans in the United States today, the month of February honors the triumphs and hardships of Black people throughout history. While a month dedicated to the Black community is important, why aren’t we celebrating their accomplishments every day?
Black History Month is an annual celebration that started in the U.S. in 1926. It was devised by historian Carter G. Woodson, (also known as “the Father of Black History”), who proposed creating a time to honor African Americans and raise awareness of Black history.
Woodson chose February for the then week-long observance called “Negro History Week” as it correlates with the birthdates of both former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and social reformer Frederick Douglass. Both of these men played a significant role in helping to end slavery. President Gerald Ford made it a month-long celebration of achievement in 1976 renamed Black History Month.
Initially, Black History Month was a way of teaching students and young people about African-Americans’ contributions to our world. But unfortunately, there have been stories that were largely forgotten and were a neglected part of the national history, which is one of the major reasons why Black History Month is something that should be honored by every single one of us everyday.
“There is no more powerful force than a people steeped in their history. And there is no higher cause than honoring our struggle and ancestors by remembering,” Lonnie G. Bunch III, Director of the Smithsonian Institution said at the opening of the Washington D.C.’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2016.
But focusing on the some voices that have been lost in traditional history books, Black History Month provides a fresh reminder for us to take into account systemic racism.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He argued that people are interconnected and that it is wrong to accept injustice. Part of that justice is recognizing people’s achievements equally.
The constant protests after George Floyd’s murder taught us that we have a long way to go towards settling our racial differences and Black History Month gives people a chance to really get to know one another on a deeper level, therefore meaning that we have a lot of work on doing a better job of educating ourselves about Black History.
Now, Black History Month is viewed as a celebration of those who have impacted and influenced not just the country, but the whole world with how far they’ve come.
Here are some of our favorite heroes in Black History:
- Rosa Parks (1913-2005): She helped initiate the civil rights movement in the United States when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955.
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968): He led the movement to end segregation and fight prejudice in the United States throughout peaceful protests. His speeches were some of the most iconic of the 20th century.
- Frederick Douglass (1818-1895): He became a leader in the abolitionist movement, which strived to end the practice of slavery, before and during the Civil War.
- Harriet Tubman (1822-1913): She was enslaved, escaped, and helped others gain their freedom as a “conductor” of the Underground Railroad.
- George Washington Carver (1864-1943): He was a world-famous chemist who made important agricultural discoveries and inventions. His research on peanuts, sweet potatoes, and other products helped poor southern farmers vary their crops and improve their diets.
- Muhammad Ali (1942-2016): He was known for his social message of Black pride and Black resistance to white domination and for refusing induction into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
- Jackie Robinson (1919-1972): He was the first African American to play Major League Baseball in the United States during the 20th century. On April 15, 1947, he broke the decades-old “color line” of Major League Baseball when he appeared on the field for the National League Brooklyn Dodgers in a game against the Boston Braves.