Black History Month was originally “Negro History Week” created by historian, Carter G. Woodson in 1926. The “week” coincided with the birthdates of Fredrick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Black History Month was first proposed by black educators at Kent State University in 1969. The first Black History Month was celebrated in 1970. The year I was born. However, it still took six years for it to be recognized and celebrated nationally after it was publicly recognized by President Gerald Ford.
Black History Month means so much to me because during my formative years in public education, we were only taught about a few select black history figures. The most prominent and most popular was Martin Luther King, Jr. His contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, while they were indeed history making and profound, were not the only ones. One of my heroes is my mother Brenda D. Gunn. She was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. Growing up, I didn’t realize or appreciate the significance of her being born in Birmingham. However, my mother was my first black history teacher. Every summer, when we were out for school, my mother made my four brothers and me do school work. We had to complete our school work before we could go outside to play. Many of the local black funeral homes had calendars with black history figures in them. We also had about two or three sets of encyclopedias (today’s Google). She would tear out the top portion of the calendar and we had to write a one page paper on that black history figure. Thus my brothers and I learned about Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Madame C.J. Walker, Booker T. Washington, Fredrick Douglass, George Washington Carver and the list goes on and on.
I didn’t understand the true significance of black history until my freshman year at the University of Louisville. I took my first Pan African Studies class with Dr. Yvonne Jones as my instructor. I learned about black inventions and black contributions to this country. I experienced my first protest at UofL for black student rights. I enjoyed learning so much about black history and culture that I minored in Pan African Studies when I graduated.
Black History Month is so significant and is still needed because many of the rights that black people fought for after slavery ended, we are still fighting for in 2020. Black people are still disproportionately incarcerated, in foster care, in state’s custody, suspended from school, lack education, unemployed, homeless, and over policed in this country. Black people still struggle to get the recognition they deserve unless they are an athlete or entertainer. Many agencies and companies that proudly announce how diverse they are, are not inclusive. You can be diverse and not inclusive. We still can not get a seat at the table.
Therefore, Black History Month is just as significant to this entire country as it is to the black community. We know our struggle. We know our history. It is important to remind the world that we are still here, contributing members of society, with a voice that deserves to be heard.