Black History Month – Have We Really Made Progress?
by Sana Kalyanpur
February has been established as Black History Month by every president of the United States for the past four decades. This time of celebration of African American successes and appreciation for the pivotal role many African Americans have played in United States history evolved out of “Negro History Week." Originally placed on the second week of February so as to correspond with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, President Gerald Ford made the decision to extend the observance to a full month beginning in 1976, stating that the United States needed to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Black History Month has unfortunately received a fair amount of backlash as well. Fox News contributor and actress Stacey Dash, best known for starring in the 1995 hit Clueless, recently made headlines for declaring that the celebration of Black History Month is ludicrous because there is no White History Month. In a way, Dash is right – there is no White History Month because every month is white history month. As Winston Churchill said: “History is written by the victors”, and white history has certainly not been repressed, stolen, and omitted from the history books the way that black history has. Forty years later and Ford’s reasoning still stands – by and large, black history is neglected, and February shines a much needed light on the best of African American accomplishments.
Ten years ago, Morgan Freeman effectively sparked the debate about the merits of having a designated Black History Month, although he denounced the observance for different reasons than Dash. Freeman indicated that black history should not be allocated to simply one month (and the shortest month, at that) because black history is American history. Sure, for the duration of February, history teachers across America educate their students about the endeavors of Crispus Attucks and Booker T. Washington, but it is largely forgotten come March. Let’s start remembering the accomplishments of black Americans every month.