Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History Month, realized very early in the 1900s the need to establish a week to commemorate the accomplishments of African Americans. That week would take place in February marking the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln, who led the nation through the Civil War and abolished slavery, and Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist newspaper publisher, orator, writer and statesmen.
Woodson, the second Black to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University, attended a history conference in Chicago where he realized the achievements of Blacks were misrepresented or ignored. Soon after, he established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, that later became known as ASALH, the Association of African American Life and History and began chronicling Black history and the daily achievements of Blacks and their contributions to the nation and the world.
Woodson knew that the neglected history of Black people needed to be collected and told, and in 1916 he began publishing the Journal of Negro History, which continues to be published today. The now-monthlong tribute to Black achievement has broadened its scope beyond those who overcame the horrific days of slavery to those who are carving their names in the journals of history for wide-ranging contributions to society.
Yet, for far too long, schools have taught the narrow history of Black people by limiting the names to those we now know so well: Frederick Douglass, Harriett Tubman and George Washington Carver, to name a few.
They have made their way onto playing cards, calendars, posters and postage stamps leaving legions of others who are barely recognized for reshaping science, technology, business, art, education and other institutions that will forever be changed by the influence of Black people.
Today, Black historians are accompanied by white researchers who are also discovering the life and legacy of little-known Black history achievers. And they both ask the question, upon discovering the likes of Frederick Jones, honored posthumously by President George W.H. Bush with a Medal of Technology for receiving over 60 patents, mostly related to refrigeration. Or four Black women who staged a strike in 1945 due to racism which led to a historic fight against the U.S. Army. Who knew?
Black History Month officially ends Thursday, Feb. 28. But there is so much more to learn and to teach all children, no matter their race, creed or color. So many stories dwell right next door, in the next church pew or standing in line at the grocery store.
If you are Black, you are contributing to Black History. And even if you’re not, you are influencing how Black history is remembered.