February is Black History Month.
Its precursor, Negro History Week, was created by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926 and observed during the second week of February.
Woodson was born Dec. 19, 1875 in New Canton, Va., the fourth of seven children. As an adolescent and teenager, Woodson worked as a sharecropper and miner to help provide for his family. He didn’t start high school until he was almost an adult, but Woodson, a natural learner, completed a four-year course at Kentucky’s Berea College. He then worked for the United States government as an education superintendent in the Philippines.
On his return to the United States Woodson earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Chicago before becoming just the second black American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard, after W.E.B. DuBois, in 1912. Dr. Woodson then dedicated himself to African American history.
Eventually, he would create Negro History Week, observed in February, to honor the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Black Americans and our accomplishments, Woodson observed, were largely left out of educational curricula of that time. If black Americans were mentioned, it was usually in very demeaning imagery or discriminatory ideas.
Dedicated to educating both blacks and whites about black accomplishments, Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) in 1915 and the Journal of Negro History in 1916.
Sixty years later, the week-long observance of Negro History Week was expanded to become Black History Month, officially recognized by the government in 1976.
Woodson never intended the observance to be used solely as information about black “firsts” or individual success. Negro History Week was a tool to cultivate awareness. He wanted the knowledge to penetrate through institutional hatred of the era and contribute to the teaching of American history year round.
This video from the National Museum of African American History and Culture gives a quick look at black history.
Additionally, Woodson wanted black Americans to understand the strong family values, work ethic, sense of individual responsibility, spirit of entrepreneurship and incredible dignity characteristic of black Americans and our African ancestors. This educational pursuit was also important to him because he felt historical awareness would inspire black Americans to maintain a sense of dignity and amazing standard of excellence.
If whites knew the true history of black people Woodson believed it would help them overcome negative stereotyping.
Let us take advantage of the national spotlight Black History Month provides to keep educating one another about why it still matters and the original purpose of the observance. Woodson’s vision was that someday a special week or month would no longer be needed to appropriately honor black American accomplishments.
Let us all be thankful for the work and vision of Dr. Carter G. Woodson. His contribution and that of other black Americans is considerable and far too important to ever be compartmentalized into just one month.
History is indeed a human need.
Editor’s note: Stacy Swimp is the special projects coordinator and a columnist for TheHUB Flint. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.