Learning about the importance of Black History Month

The Power of One … can one person make a difference? Change a culture? Move a nation?

During the summer of 1915, Carter G. Woodson, an alumni of the University of Chicago, was in the city three years after receiving his doctorate degree from Harvard to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the emancipation. He had prepared a black history display for the celebration. After seeing the popularity of the celebration and the overflow crowd to view the exhibits, he met with a few men at the Chicago YMCA and formed an organization to promote the study of black history before he left town. This organization was known as The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.

The organization published a journal, and 10 years after its humble beginnings, planned a week of activities and commemorations devoted to African-American History. The week of Feb. 7 was chosen for this first week-long celebration because it included the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln on Feb. 12 (the former President that had signed the Emancipation Proclamation that freed many slaves), and the abolitionist and former slave, Frederick Douglass on Feb. 14. It was the hope of the organization that Negro History Week, as it was called, would encourage better relations between blacks and whites in the United States as well as inspire young African-Americans to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of their

ancestors.

By the 1960s, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, American educators embraced the observation of Negro History Week. In 1976, as the United States was celebrating the Bicentennial, the traditional week-long celebration was expanded to a month. President Gerald Ford urged Americans to participate in the activities, but it wasn’t until 1978 that President Jimmy Carter officially recognized Black History Month.

Black History Month is extremely important to each of us. African American History is in fact an integral part of American History. African Americans have played a crucial role in building and shaping this country. From the early days of slavery through the struggles of creating a new country built upon the ideals of freedom and democracy, to the contributions in the military, medicine, science, agriculture, the arts, education and government, African Americans have contributed to the evolution of a country unlike any other.

We study history for various reasons: to learn the lessons of the past, to be inspired by the spirit of possibility, to emulate models of human excellence and achievement, and to practice the moral obligation of remembrance. Hopefully by celebrating the story of ALL of those who came before us, we dignify the significance of each culture’s contributions to our uniqueness and provide a cultural bridge to our future.

The students at Baldwin Elementary recently culminated Black History Month with an annual program highlighting the contributions of African American individuals and events from the history of our country which hopefully made clear that “We the People” means all of us!