Why Is Black History Confined to Just One Month a Year?Last Edited:
After decades, there is still a debate about Black history being confined to one month out of the year.
For Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly, everyone can learn from the lessons of Black History Month—where the contributions of African-Americans to the country are celebrated and the obstacles they had to overcome to earn full citizenship in the United States are retold every February.
Kelly, who became Bridgeton’s first African-American mayor in 2010, said he hopes the celebrations and retellings will allow all people to grow harmoniously with one another.
“At first glance, my hope is that all people can learn to be more tolerant, more compassionate, and more open-minded about and toward those whose experiences were so much different than their own,” Kelly said.
“Perhaps, more importantly, to learn that there is no template for what we’re trying to do in this country. When the British granted independence to India, they packed up and left. When the Belgians left the Congo or the French gave up their colonial holdings in Southeast Asia, they simply left and separated themselves.
"America is unique in that we had to learn to co-exist with one another and that means dealing with all of the challenges, fears, suspicions, resentments, etc. We’re still learning.”
Kelly and others in Cumberland County, state of New Jersey, and around the country will be participating in activities recognizing Black History Month.
The annual celebration was originally started by late African-American historian Carter G. Woodson in 1915 as “Negro History Week,” the second week of February, which coincided with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
During the nation’s bicentennial in 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized the entire month of February as Black History Month for the first time.
The accomplishments of African-Americans were rarely told in the mainstream media or in history books while Jim Crow Laws in the South kept many blacks and whites separated for nearly 100 years after the Civil War legally ended the enslavement of African-Americans in the United States.
“We’re only a short period of time away from not being able to drink from the same water fountains,” Paston Damon Dukes, of Rock Life Church in Swedesboro, said, who stressed the continued importance of Black History Month. “There are still certain stereotypes and stigmas that come with being African-American in this country.
“I blame the school system. In fact, every semester I have students who tell me that they feel cheated and upset by how much they were not exposed to about people of African descent.”
—Donnetrice Allison, coordinator of Africana Studies at Stockton University
“I make sure that my sons understand to work hard for everything they have, that they have God on their side and to treat everyone with honor and respect, regardless how they are treated. That’s one of the foundations of our home, the love of God and character of Christ,” he continued.
Many educational institutions, nonprofit groups, and other organizations will spend February focusing on well-known African-American figures like Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriett Tubman, and President Barack Obama.
Bridgeton superintendent Thomasina Jones, said that she likes to remind her students that African-Americans are making history today.
During read-ins, Jones (pictured) said she has read and given books to students featuring history-making gold medal Olympic gymnasts Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles, for example.
“It’s not just someone who the kids have never heard of before, so I try to take a look at these young African-American athletes and people from other backgrounds.
There is this book called June Peters, You Will Change the World One Day. It’s a little African-American girl who decided that she wanted to assist the homeless at the age of 10.
“I’m letting my kids now look at this young African-American girl who saw a need and pooled all of her resources together and gauged the community to help those homeless people. … The kids need to see that there are African-Americans around their age group who are making major contributions to society,” Jones continued.
The kids need to see that there are African-Americans around their age group who are making major contributions to society.
Donnetrice Allison (pictured), coordinator of Africana Studies at Stockton University, said, though, that these messages don’t seem often get across to many young students, including African-Americans today.
“I am saddened every year by how little they know at 18, 19, 20 and 21 years old [about African-American history],” Allison said. “But I blame the school system. In fact, every semester I have students who tell me that they feel cheated and upset by how much they were not exposed to about people of African descent.
“They don’t even know that the Louisiana Purchase happened because of the Haitian Revolution. How is it that that important piece of information is left out of any standard history or social studies class?” Allison continued.
Yet, there has been a somewhat of a growing backlash against Black History Month, interesting enough, from some African-Americans. They said the designation allows for the contribution of blacks to be ignored for the other 11 months of the year.
In 2005, John Wiley Price, the first black ever elected to the Dallas County Commissioners Court in Texas, made headlines when he said he would refuse any invitation to speak in February.
“I’m not going to be, as the kids say, ‘pimped’ during the month of February,” Price told The Associated Press then. “Black people were visible during February, but the other 11 months of the year we became the invisible people.”
The same year, Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman called the concept of Black History Month “ridiculous.”
“You’re going to relegate my history to a month?” Freeman said on news magazine show 60 Minutes. “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.”
Terrence Hardee (pictured), the director of workforce development at Cumberland County Community College, said that Black History Month offers a chance for all Americans to recognize the important contributions of blacks.
“I don’t have issue with the celebration because if it wasn’t here, there wouldn’t be a celebration at all,” said Hardee, who teaches an African-American history course at the college. “Our stories and experience are always undersold. In books, they are relegated to paragraph or footnote, if at all.”
In the age of “fake news,” Hardee, who grew up in Mississippi, said that Black History Month is needed more than ever now.
“The fact of it is, it is American history and a cultural part that needs to be celebrated,” Hardee said. “It’s what makes his country so unique. We’re not a melting pot, but a tossed salad because we all maintain our individual experiences and life experience.
“It needs to continue to be shared because the younger generation is not exposed to some of the historical facts. As the saying goes, if you don’t know your history, you’re doomed to repeat it.”
(Answer: George Washington Carver)
SNJ Today is a Southern New Jersey news and information source that is dedicated to providing current stories related specifically to South Jersey.
Do you have community news or events? Email email@example.com, text SNJNews to 313131, or call 856.825.NEWS (6397).