by Master Sgt. Elena M. Lund, Human Resource Development Council
February is Black History Month. In order to understand the importance of it, it's imperative that one knows its origin.
In the summer of 1915, a three week national celebration of the 50th anniversary of the emancipation was held at the Coliseum in Chicago. Thousands of African Americans journeyed from all over the country to view exhibits that showcased the advancement they had made since the abolishment of slavery.
Among the individuals in attendance was Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a graduate of Harvard and the University of Chicago. He traveled from Washington D.C. to participate in the celebration, providing a display along with the other exhibitors. Approximately 12,000 visitors stood in line outside the Coliseum to view the exhibits.
Woodson felt so moved by the celebration that he decided he wanted to form an organization that would support the methodical study of the life of African Americans and their history before he left Chicago. He met with A.L. Jackson as well as three other individuals and created the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, or ASNLH.
Woodson went on to achieve other successes associated with promoting awareness of African American history. In 1916 he established The Journal of Negro History. In 1920, Dr. Woodson encouraged black civic and fraternal organizations to promote the accomplishments of African Americans. As a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., he convinced his fraternity brothers in 1924 to carry on the task of promoting black history. They created the Negro History and Literature Week, later renamed Negro Achievement Week.
In Feb. 1926, Woodson announced Negro History Week in a press release. It is believed he chose the month of February because it includes the birthdays of two Americans who played important roles in shaping black history, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. He also felt the month should incorporate the celebration and acknowledgement of black Americans who aided in the moving forward of black human culture.
Negro History Week was acknowledged by many public schools and organizations across the country. "New Negro" was a nickname established based on the growing racial pride of Post-War I generation of black Americans. Millions were migrating from the south to large cities throughout the nation.
Woodson and the ASNLH developed an annual theme for a celebration. Posters of important dates and people, pictures, lesson plans for teachers, and historical performance scripts were created. Negro History Clubs were being formed in progressive communities. ASNLH branches had spread across the country.
In 1937, under the influence of Mary McLeod Bethune, an educator and civil rights leader, Woodson created the Negro History Bulletin that focused on the annual observance. Mayors were issuing city proclamations, and progressive Americans were joining in on Negro History Week with National Brotherhood Week.
The study of black history didn't expand in the south as expediently as it did in the north. It was reported that a teacher hid a book written by Woodson under his desk for fear of the retributions if it were found. The Civil Rights Movement revolutionized the transformation of race relations and select schools incorporated black history into their curriculums.
Prior to his death in 1950, Woodson was confident the Negro History Week celebrations wouldn't end. He established a black studies extension program, dreaming of African Americans learning about their past on a daily basis, to the extent that an annual celebration would no longer be a necessity.
The study and celebration of black history had a dramatic effect on society in the 1960s. African Americans on college campuses were becoming increasingly aware of the ties between Africa and black history. This awareness resulted in Black History Month celebrations slowly replacing Negro History Week.
In 1976, 50 years after the first celebration, February became recognized as Black History Month. All U.S. Presidents, since, have endorsed it by issuing proclamations.
Black History Month holds an important place in American history. The zealous efforts made by America's ancestors to develop equality amongst the nation can never be celebrated or appreciated enough. As we go about our daily activities and lives this month, let us not forget the importance of it.
Commentary submitted by Master Sgt. Elena M. Lund, chair of Special Observances and Diversity, Human Resource Development Council.