The words Black History Month usually bring a nostalgic image to my mind. It reminds me of elementary school, when I learned about the significant contributions black citizens made: Rosa Parks’ impact on the Civil Rights Movement, George Washington Carver’s experiments and, of course, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for nonviolence.
At that age, most of us happily accepted and enjoyed Black History Month. It was a time to celebrate black excellence and recognize their contributions to the world. However, as I got older, I came to understand that black history, or black excellence should not be contained in the shortest month of the year.
To put it simply, black history is American history and should be taught more comprehensively year-round.
Negro History Week, as it was called at the time, was started in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-educated historian. Woodson saw the underrepresentation of African Americans being taught in school, and made it his mission to change history. He chose the month of February to pay respects to Fredrick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, both of whom were important figures in black—American—history. The week of “negro history,” eventually became Black History Month in 1976.
What Woodson did not perceive, is that by setting up the foundation for Black History Month, he also set up a system in which black history is only celebrated in February.
At the lower grade level, teaching about Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is important and introduces the idea that not all citizens were equal at one point in history. Yet, as they grow older, students are taught about the same leaders repeatedly, instead of the many black Americans that have made significant and numerous contributions to society.
Evidence has shown that many students do not understand some of the most important historical actions that have taken place in the United States. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress U.S. History Exam, out of the 12,000 12th grade students tested, 73 percent of students were unable to come up with an appropriate response when asked about “separate education facilities (being) inherently unequal.” The answer pertaining to the Brown V. Board of Education is quite possibly one of the most important Supreme Court cases to date.
Another report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization, shows that 35 states receive an F grade for only teaching “20 percent of the recommended content” concerning civil rights. Fifteen of these states completely ignore civil rights all together.
When discussing the state that America is in when looking at black history, one month is absolutely not enough. Black history is important because it is American history and the only way to avoid repeating history is to learn from it. The history of slavery, segregation, civil rights, and oppression needs to be taught. Since students are not learning about inequality and injustice, they are bound to repeat it.
It is vital that students learn about Claudette Colvin, Marsha P. Johnson, Bessie Coleman, Robert Smalls and other forgotten black iconic figures, and not limit black history to just a month to understand the impact black people have made on all of our lives.
-John Lee is a marketing freshman