In the books and conversations that shaped the study of American history, African Americans were barely part of the story—a narrative that we know is not true.
“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated,”
For this reason, Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. moorland founded The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, or the ASALH) in 1915.
In 1926, Woodson and the ASALH launched a “Negro History Week” to bring attention to his mission and help school systems coordinate their focus on the topic. Woodson chose the second week in February, as it encompassed both Frederick Douglass’ birthday on February 14 and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12.
But, though a newfound understanding of black culture and literature was spreading amongst the middle class, the idea of expanding the week to a month did not come until several decades later; during the Civil Rights Movement. Black history week was expanded from one week to the entire month by Kent State University in 1969 and was officially recognized by the US government in 1976 by Gerald Ford during his speech of the Bicentennial of the United States.
Immigrants of African descent
During Black History Month, when people across the U.S. are encouraged to honor the African-American experience, i as an African struggle to find a representation of black heroes beyond Harriet Tubman, Crispus Attucks, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King; a sentiment widely felt within the black community – that Black History Month is losing its relevance in an increasingly diverse America.
“If you’re only telling 5 percent of who we are, that’s not enough to tell the whole story, What’s the other 95 percent that we don’t know?”
Even as we revere black American figures like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, there is an apparent exclusion of information in Black History Month. There are so many other people that could and should be celebrated.
Samuel Roberts and his wife, Guenet Gittens-Roberts, are Guyanese immigrants in central Florida who said they grew weary of how Black History Month has remained American-centric and often fails to look for history predating the trans-Atlantic slave trade. “There were kings and queens and royalty in our blood lines,” said Gittens-Roberts, who with her husband publishes the Caribbean American Passport Magazine.
“Coming from Guyana, I truly believe the only thing stopping you is you,” Samuel Roberts said. “The harder you work, the richer you get. But because race is so important in the U.S., there is this social feeling among African-Americans that you can’t get beyond your situation because you are black.
Beyond national observances, the country’s black populations need to be looking toward their common future. It’s time to begin the conversation about the future of black America. What will it look like in 2030 or 2100? We’re still living on the “I Have A Dream” speech.