History shows that it does not matter who is in power… those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they did in the beginning.” – Carter G. Woodson
The celebration of Black History Month stemmed from. Carter G. Woodson’s belief the distribution of honest accounts of black history would lead society to accept the value of the black community.
Deemed the “father of black history” by numerous African American studies programs Woodson founded “Negro History Week” in February of 1926.
The selected week was in between the birthdays of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, in honor of the nation’s bicentennial the week was expanded to “National Afro- American History Month.”
With the 30th celebration of Black History Month and the 80th celebration of its beginnings here, some of the issues of equality and progress that were expected by the founders of the movement have begun to be questioned.
The establishment of a month dedicated to black history was an accomplishment for the African-American community, yet some people argue that it also symbolizes the lack of full integration within society.
Woodson hoped that Negro History Week, and a segregated time to observe the history of the black community, would eventually become obsolete. He wished for a day when black American’s contributions would be accepted, and integratedpart of the history of this country.
The question remains as to how close society has goptten to this goal.
“They don’t even know why they stop at the corner for the stop light, they don’t know that Garret Morgan (an African-American) received the patent for what we now know as the automatic stop sign,” said Dolores Nehemiah, President of Our Authors, Inc. which serves as the Los Angeles branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).
“(Dr. Woodson) knew that his race had many accomplishments that would never be known unless somebody took the time to research and disseminate the information,” Nehemiah said.
ASALH was founded by Dr. Woodson in 1915 and is still in operation. It is a part of African American history and serves as one of the oldest organizations devoted to the study and advancement of black history.
“The issue that he [Dr. Woodson] was mostly concerned with, is that when you look at American history itself, it does not reflect on the significant contributions African Americans have made to it,” Dr. Tom Spencer-Walters, chairman of the pan-african studies department at CSUN said.
“Especially during the early period of slavery when most of the plantations in the South, provided the economic power to many of the land owners and plantation owners and [history does not make mention] to the sweat and blood of many of the Africans who were enslaved there,” Spencer-Walters said.
“The industrial development in the North [which was] partly fueled by access to cheap, black labor which helped to more or less spring board the industrial movement.”
Early research on black history was collected and distributed through Woodson’s organization and his published periodicals, Negro History Bulletin and the Journal of Negro History. Ultimately, this distribution of information was an action done in the hopes of creating a melding of the white and black communities in the country.
“That’s a good hope, but we have to keep, keep, keep pushing,” said Melanie Ellis, junior pan-african studies and sociology major.
Ellis, like other black young adults has begun to question the idea of one month devoted to an entire communities history.
“Stuffing five-hundred years of our history in one month is too much,” Ellis said.
Some still feel that the idea of remembering everyone’s history everyday can be done.
“In a sense black history month is seen as a celebration only, instead of an ongoing education,” Spencer-Walters said.
“Black history month is not about black students, it is about educating Americans about the contributions of blacks and to the development of this country therefore, it is the responsibility and really the obligation of all Americans to be educated about how the different groups of this country have made significant contributions to America, being one of the greatest countries in the world.
History is really what determines the development of any society. The knowledge of it, [is what] that society has to be in the position to say that they have achieved, Spencer-Walters said.”
Monica L. Turner, part-time professor of pan-african studies said the complete integration of all cultures in American history can be accomplished, once inequalities are eliminated.
“A measurement of achieving true inclusion is when we no longer have the need for black history month, when people are considered beyond their superficialities,” Turner said.
“Right now there’s a need to remind people that there’s inequity in our society. ”
Historically Black Colleges and Universities have had a different approach when it comes to celebrating Black History. The purpose of the institutions is to serve the collegiate needs of African- American students, who were once not allowed admission to traditional institutions. Some HBCU alums found February to be just another month.
“Everyday was Black History month,” said Glenn Snyder, graduate of the HBCU, Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. “When the entire mission of your college is to celebrate “blackness”, it seems pointless to designate one month to it. There were speakers and events year-round, which spoke about our history. We were constantly reminded of it.”
Educational institutions and student organizations have been vital to the recognition of black history and this year they will be recognized.
This year the ASALH declared the theme of this month’s celebrations “Celebrating Community: A Tribute to Black Fraternal, Social and Civic Institutions.”
The issue, Turner said, is to continue integrating all student organizations to create the full inclusion that can then be translated into society.
Turner also expressed sadness when she discussed CSUN’s other student organizations and their lack of oinvolvement in the month’s festivities.
“This is really about student programming and I’m just there as a facilitator,” Turner said.
Turner said that she hopes unity within all student organizations will eventually occur.
“Celebrating black history on campus is not about black students. We have made some progress, but we have a long way to go,” Turner said..
Yohanna Figueroa cam be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.