The corporate ads for Black History month have started. The special events are planned at schools, businesses and libraries.
And, once again, the debate in the black community has re-emerged about whether Black History Month should be celebrated or ditched because it has outlived its usefulness. Historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926 called for “Negro History Week.” He chose February because it coincided with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln, who both played key roles in freeing slaves.
In 1976, the week was expanded to a month and has been that way ever since.
For those who celebrate, the argument is that without a special month, the mainstream media, schools and corporations might never acknowledge the black people’s contributions to American culture.
For the naysayers, the argument is that black history is American history and ought not separate out. It ought to be taught and celebrated daily. Actor Morgan Freeman has been on a rampage against the month.
“You’re going to relegate my history to a month,” he told Mike Wallace of 60 minutes several years ago. “Which one is white history month?…Black history is American history.”
Edna Greene Medford, chair of Howard Univerisity’s history department, understands both sides of the argument.
“Carter G. Woodson.. hadn’t planned for this celebration to be just the month of February,” she said. “It was the beginning of recognizing the contributions and role of African Americans in history. Through that, he hoped that African-American history would be incorporated sufficiently into American history.”
Medford said celebrating is imperative.
“If we don’t call attention to what we have done in this country and our role in the development in this country, then who’s going to tell our story?,”she said. “It’s unfortunate that it’s observed by most people as just as month long celebration.”
PBS plunges into the debate on Feb. 16 with the documentary “End Black History Month,” in which filmmaker Shukree Hassan Tilghman sets off on a cross-country campaign to do just that. PBS describes it this way “His insightful and humorous journey explores the complexity and contradictions of relegating an entire group’s history to one month in a so-called ‘post-racial’ America.”
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