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February 1st marks the beginning of Black History Month. Each year Americans set aside a few weeks to focus their historical hindsight on the particular contributions that people of African descent have made to this country. While not everyone agrees Black History Month is a good thing, here are several reasons why I think it’s appropriate to celebrate this occasion.
The History of Black History Month
First, let’s briefly recount the advent of Black History Month. Also called African American History Month, this event originally began as Negro History Week in 1926. It took place during the second week of February because it coincided with the birthdates of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, is credited with the creation of Negro History Week.
In 1976, the bicentennial of the United States, President Gerald R. Ford expanded the week into a full month. He said the country needed to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Objections to Black History Month
Black History Month has been the subject of criticism from both Blacks and people of other races. Some argue it is unfair to devote an entire month to a single people group. Others contend that we should celebrate Black history throughout the entire year. Setting aside only one month, they say, gives people license to neglect this past for the other 11 months.
Despite the objections, though, I believe some good can come from devoting a season to remembering a people who have made priceless deposits into the account of our nation’s history. Here are five reasons why we should celebrate Black History Month.
1. Celebrating Black History Months Honors the Historic Leaders of the Black Community
I have the privilege of living in Jackson, Mississippi which is the site of many significant events in Black History. Just the other day I heard Myrlie Evers, the wife of slain Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers, speak at the Governor’s Prayer Luncheon. It’s common to see James Meredith, the first African American student at Ole Miss, in local churches or at community events.
Heroes like these and many more deserve to be honored for the sacrifice and suffering they endured for the sake of racial equality. Celebrating Black History Month allows us to pause and remember their stories, so we can commemorate their achievements.
2. Celebrating Black History Month Helps Us to Be Better Stewards of the Privileges We’ve Gained
Several years spent teaching middle school students impaled me with the reality that if we don’t tell the old, old stories, then the next generation, and we ourselves, will forget them. It pained me to have to explain the significance of the Harlem Renaissance and the Tuskegee Airmen to children who had never learned of such events, and the men and women who took part in them.
To what would surely be the lament of many historic African American leaders, my students and so many others (including me) take for granted the rights that many people before them sweated, bled, and died to secure. Apart from an awareness of the past we can never appreciate the blessings we enjoy in the present.
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