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Black History month, Why in February?

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February 7th, 2011

February is the month that many African Americans celebrate Black History, however many of us may not know the reason February was the month chosen. Did you know Americans have recognized black history month annually since 1926? And at one time it was known as “Negro History week”?

In 1976, as part of the nation's Bicentennial, it was expanded and became established as Black History Month, and is now celebrated all over North America.  A major factor  for this celebration was to educate Americans and others of the many contributions of  African Americans. During the early portion of the 20th century black history had barely begun to be studied or even documented.  Although blacks have been in America at least as far back as colonial times, it was not until the late 20th century that they gained a respectable presence in the history books.

We owe this celebration and even more importantly, the education of  Black History Month to Dr. Carter G. Woodson, (1875-1950).  Born to parents who were once slaves, Woodson spent his childhood working in the Kentucky coal mines and reenrolled in high school at age twenty.  He graduated within two years and later went on to earn a PhD from Harvard.  Woodson sadly realized that history books ignored the African American population; and if they were mentioned it was largely in ways that reflected a negative social position that was accepted at the time.  Woodson was always one to act on his ambitions, decided to take on the challenge of writing African Americans into the nation’s history.  He established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which is now called the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History in 1915.  A year later he founded the widely respected Journal of Negro History.  In 1926, he launched Negro History Week as an initiative to bring national attention to the contributions of African Americans.

Carter G. Woodson chose the second week of February for Black History Week because it marks the birthdays of two men who greatly impacted the American black population, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

Frederick Douglass, once a slave became a great Abolitionist and orator and even began the popular anti-slavery publication “North Star”.  Douglass was taught to read by his slave owner’s wife, later worked on a plantation and eventually moved up north where  he had great success.  In 1945 he published his autobiography, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and was a sought out speaker throughout the north.  President Lincoln, assinated in 1865, abolished slavery when he wrote the “Emancipation Proclamation” in 1863.  He was a man who made extraordinary effort to attain knowledge while working on a farm, and keeping store in New Salem, Ilinois. He spent eight years in the legislature after being a captain in the Black Hawk war.  During the Civil War he spoke at Gettysburg on behalf of the pain but necessary stance of the civil war.  A portion of the speech “"that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”, helped get him reelected into office in 1864 until his death.

However, February has more than Douglass and Lincoln to show its significance in African American history, here are some other facts:

  • February 1, 1960 – A civil rights movement milestone, a group of Greensboro, N.C. college students began a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter.
  • February 3, 1870 – The 15th Amendment was passed, granting blacks the right to vote
  • February 12, 1909 – The National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NACCP) was founded by a group of concerned black and white citizens in New York City.
  • February 21, 1965 – Malcolm X, the activist who promoted Black Nationalism, was shot to death at the Audubon Theater
  • February 23, 1868 – W.E.B. DuBois, important civil rights leader and co-founder of the NACCP, was born
  • February 25, 1870 – The first black U.S. senator, Hiram R. Revels took his oath of office

The legacy of African Americans and their contributions are many, from the stop light to the astronaut suit we have definitely made a mark in history.

America is the great melting pot of the world, people from various cultural groups have landed here on these grounds, sometimes escaping religious persecution, famine and for others despair.  Our nation has embraced its multiculturalism openly and we are better because of this.  Today in these times we watch powerful leaders like Gen. Colin Powell influence a nation during such a critical time, we may not envy him but we definitely respect hims.  We then thoughtfully note the intelligence and gracefulness of Condoleeza Rice as she advises the President daily on worldly issues, and we know that hard work does pay off.  Surely times have changed and when I look at my children I smile and think, they have a choice…a choice that our ancestors and other fought and died so valiantly for.

 

by Juliette Diarra

 

 

February 1, 1960 – A civil rights movement milestone, a group of Greensboro, N.C. college students began a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter.
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