*Guest Post - thank you to Harry Parsons, Content Manager of Arcadia Publishing for this wonderful article about Black History Month!
As we make our way towards another February, it’s time once again to celebrate Black History Month. Also known as National African American History Month, Black History Month is a month-long period during which we celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of African Americans everywhere.
America would quite simply not be the nation we know and love without the contributions of its black citizens, making a time to acknowledge that fact vitally important.
However, there’s a lot the average person might not know about Black History Month. When did it start and how did it come to be? What are the most important benefits of celebrating it and what are some of the best ways to participate if you’re so inclined? Here we’ll explore the enduring legacy of one of the most important periods of the year.
The Origins of Black History Month
Black History Month as we know it today has its origins in a previous event called Negro History Week. Negro History Week was established in 1926 and took place during the second week of February since that week coincided with the birthdates of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It was established by noted historian Carter G. Woodson.
The expansion of the event into a month-long celebration wouldn’t occur until 1976 when President Gerald R. Ford made the change. According to Ford, it was time for the country as a whole to really embrace the opportunity to honor its black citizens and their accomplishments, as both are all too often overlooked.
The Benefits of Celebrating Black History Month
Of course, Black History Month has had its share of critics (both black and non-black) over the years, especially around the time of its establishment. Some people considered it unfair to set aside an entire month to the celebration of a single social group. Others argued that the celebration of black history should be an “all the time” affair and that limiting the event to only one month gave people permission to neglect the concept the rest of the year.
However, regardless of the objections or possible drawbacks associated with the concept of Black History Month, it’s clear that it does more good than harm. Black history is, in effect, American history, and no study of our great nation can be considered complete without it. The following are just a few of the many benefits of commemorating it:
1. Celebrating properly honors historic members of the black community.
Celebrating Black History Month encourages us to commemorate, discuss, and contemplate numerous iconic members of the black community. Examples include civil rights leaders like Medgar Evers, gifted speakers like Frederick Douglass, and activists like Sojourner Truth. We already set aside special days or periods to honor American presidents, visionaries, and thinkers. Why not brave, inspiring members of the black community as well?
2. Celebrating helps every new generation appreciate the privileges they enjoy.
Although it goes without saying that there’s still a lot still to be done when it comes to bettering race relations in America, it’s also worth noting just how much progress has already been made. Setting aside time to talk about the past and honor the people that have made change possible ensures that their sacrifices will never be taken for granted.
3. Celebrating helps us shine a spotlight on the best parts of black culture.
Black History Month is an opportunity to highlight the very best of black culture, like inspirational leaders, artists, visionaries, teachers, and community pillars of all types. The accomplishments of African American carry global and national significance.
4. Celebrating helps raise awareness in regards to important issues.
The topic of American history is a vast one, to be sure. That said, it’s not uncommon for important aspects of black history (like the civil rights movement) to be reduced to mere footnotes in the grand scheme of things. Black History Month gives everyone a chance to learn more about people, events, and places of which they may not have much awareness previously.
Celebrating Black History Month in Style
Of course, deciding that it’s important to celebrate Black History Month is one thing. Deciding how to celebrate is another. The following ideas should give you some good food for thought.
1. Start a discussion.
Consider celebrating Black History Month together as a family this year. Have each child and adult choose an iconic African-American person, organization, or group (i.e., the Negroes Baseball League or the Tuskegee Air Men) to study, honor, and research at the beginning of the month. Then get together at the end of the month to share everything you’ve all learned with one another.
2. Plan a soul food feast.
Food is probably everyone’s favorite way to celebrate a special occasion. Why not make it a part of your Black History Month celebration as well? “Soul food” is a term that was coined in the 1960s to describe a cuisine based on the traditional West African diet. Common ingredients in soul food include sorghum, rice, okra, and more. Consider learning more about the origins of soul food as a family and then preparing a feast to enjoy together. Dishes to focus on include but are not limited to collard greens, sweet potatoes, grits, cornbread, fried chicken, southern barbecue, and chicken and waffles.
3. Feed your head.
Nothing beats reading when it comes to building a true appreciation for a given topic, and black history is no exception. Make it a point to read up on African American history this February with biographies about famous black figures, classic novels by and about black people, and so forth.
Alternatively, choose one or more regional history or local interest books that focus on black communities, neighborhoods, and local heroes in your own home town or area of origin. What better way to place what you’ve been learning in a context you can relate to?
At the end of the day, there are lots of ways you can honor and celebrate the contributions of African Americans this February. Just make sure you do celebrate. You’ll be glad you did.
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out the article, CELEBRATING THE TIMELESS VALUES AND VISION OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, also by Harry Parsons. Also be sure to check out these fabulous resources: