I’m sure the question has been asked in the past, ‘Is Black History Month still relevant in the 21st Century?’ I would say yes it is. Not only is it still relevant, but needed to dispel the fresh new myths along with a few old tall tales emerging once again on the contributions – or lack thereof – of black people in this country. Carter G. Woodson, known as the ‘Father of Black History’ would assert that now, more than ever, this month is important to ‘jump start’ our children and those young at heart to learn more about the accomplishments and breakthroughs of our ancestors.
To understand why Mr. Woodson was so passionate about our race and the remembrance of our achievements, it should be noted that although he did not gain a formal education until the age of 20, as a youth “he possessed an unquenchable thirst for learning” In fact Lerone Bennett, Jr., former senior editor of Ebony magazine, drove this point home in his article “Carter G. Woodson, Father of Black History”
Like so many of his contemporaries, he was denied education, partly because there were few black schools, partly because his father needed his hands in the fields. But unlike many of his playmates, he created an inviolate place within. More than this, deeper than this, he perceived early, as pioneer black educators Mary McLeod Bethune and Benjamin E. Mays and others perceived in similar circumstances, that the key to his dungeon was education. And he decided early that he was willing to do almost anything to get that key.
If you read our Passion of Literature series, you’d recognize the slaves understood education were the ‘Keys to the Kingdom’ as far as enlightenment and knowledge. As the son of slaves, Mr. Woodson knew that all too well as Mr. Bennett continues:
Driven by this need, young Carter, aided by two uncles, taught himself the ABCs between backbreaking hours in the field. Then, accompanied by his brother, he moved in 1892 to Huntington, West Virginia, which had one of those rarities of the time, a high school for black students. To get money to finance his education, he went to work in the coal mines, braving falling rocks, accidental explosions and poisonous gases. He was injured one day by falling slate, but he never turned back.
“Nothing could stop Carter,” a cousin, John Riddle, said. “He didn’t stay in the mines long. He was always interested in getting an education.”
It was this drive that allowed Mr. Woodson to achieve the following as he “was the founder of Associated Publishers, founder and editor of the Negro History Bulletin, and the author of more than thirty books. Probably Woodson’s best known book is The Mis-Education of the Negro, originally published in 1933 and still relevant today. In the Mis-Education of the Negro Dr. Woodson stated that:
“When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.””
As a side note, I have to say there is not enough time to do the history of this great man justice. The following links and video at the conclusion of this article I hope will provide just that.
Mr. Woodson understood a people whose accomplishments are never realized, have no sense of pride in themselves and dreams are limited to what they could achieve. His quote explains that, “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”
The power of words was paramount in Mr. Woodson’s view. He believed in the effect they can have on an entire race. He also knew through that same power, it can be used to edify the masses into much greater heights. So often society’s message is to reinforce the notion that we are worthless, other nationalities for some reason are smarter than we and outside of our artistic and athletic prowess, blacks haven’t offered much in terms of historic reference. Mr. Woodson saw through that racial smokescreen and established the month to clarify once and for all, the facts that blacks had done our share besides picking cotton and shucking and jiving.
However, the goal to inform wasn’t simply for black pride, as Mr. Woodson explains:
“Besides building self-esteem among blacks, (Black History Week) would help eliminate prejudice among whites,” Woodson concluded.”
All you have to do is listen to the political ramblings of a few individuals and entities in recent weeks to indicate as long as falsehoods are tossed about in the American consciousness, they will flourish and left unchallenged, denies all that our ancestors have done. This lack of historical knowledge also cripples the full respect of other cultures and nationalities towards their Negro brethren. I strongly object to the notion this month be done away merely for the sake of convenience. When Frederick Douglass and others are recognized for their great works, perhaps the conversation to phase out the celebration can begin, but not before.
So when did it turn from a week to a month? Here are a few dates from the websites researched.
In the 1960s what was once only a week of recognizing the outstanding achievements of Americans of African heritage to science, literature, and the arts became transformed into “Black History Month.” (Source: http://www.africawithin.com/bios/carter_woodson.htm)
By the 1970s, Negro History Week had expanded to become Black History Month. (Source: http://www.cwo.com/~lucumi/woodson.html)
One thing is for sure.
“This was perhaps his proudest accomplishment. “No other single thing,” he said, “has done so much to dramatize the achievement of persons of African blood.””
Again, we thank Mr. Woodson, for having the vision to help us remember the greatness of our ancestors. We can do no less than to celebrate our accomplishments every day – and be proud.
You can find out more about the ‘Father of Black History’ by clicking on the following (I should note the quotes and source material for this article are gathered from these websites):
The following video celebrates his life (link only):