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AlumNews: Talon Articles

February commemorates Black History

Tuesday, February 26, 2008  
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By Lindsay Autry

This month is a time for a buzz of activity on the campus and in the lives of most students. Aside from the usual business of classes and working, it's also a time of Spring Sing practices and productions, basketball games and track meets, making plans for Spring Break and ultimately starting the countdown to either graduation or at the very least, summer.

Though everyone does not celebrate it and some are unaware of it, February is Black History Month.

"I think it's an important time, so we can remember the leaders that got rid of segregation. It's something we should always remember and reflect on. It's hard to think about where we would be without them," sophomore Daniel Mayfield said.

Carter G. Woodson is the man who established Black History Month (formerly known as Negro History Week).

Woodson was known as the "father of multiculturalism, Black History Month, and modern Negro historiography."

Negro History Week was considered to be his greatest accomplishment.

Woodson was born in New Canton, Va. to former slaves James Henry and Anne Eliza Woodson.

Even though his parents couldn't read or write, Carter G. Woodson credits his father for influencing him through his life.

He later wrote on his father's impact on the way he lived his life, saying his father insisted "learning to accept insult, to compromise on principle, to mislead your fellow man or to betray your people, is to lose your soul."

Throughout his life, Woodson had a distinct philosophy on history; he believed it was not merely a gathering of facts, but the object was to arrive at a reasonable interpretation of these facts.

Woodson's worked through institutions and activities he founded and promoted.  In 1915, he and several others founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) in Chicago.

In 1916, he published the Journal of Negro History, one of the oldest journals in the U.S.

Woodson and the ASNLH decided there should be a time to commemorate and celebrate the accomplishments of African-Americans in history.

He felt Black people had an important past and contributed to the mainstream of civilization, yet it was never in the books and never recorded by white counterparts.

Woodson was adamant about all people, especially Black people, knowing their erased history, saying "If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated."

Initially known as Negro History Week, it was first celebrated beginning Feb. 12, 1926.  Negro History Week was celebrated the second week of February.

Woodson chose February to celebrate the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

During this week, the ASNLH produced bibliographies, photographs, books, pamphlets and other promotional literature to assist the Black community in celebration.

Woodson credited school teachers with the growth of this celebration.

They were the most active in creating innovative activities and establishing Negro History Study clubs in the schools, and he noted that in the Journal.

"I don't know of any activities, but I definitely think it's necessary to celebrate it, because there's still an issue with violence and racism in this country," sophomore Karen Thomas said.

In the early 1970s, twenty years after Woodson's unexpected death, the ASNLH decided to extend the week to the entire month of February and change "Negro" to "black."

Although criticized by some, Woodson's plan was never to widen the gap between races; it was to correct racism promoted in works published by white scholars. He wanted to emphasize that Black people are not victims, but major actors in American history.

He wanted to increase awareness of and interest in Black history among both blacks and whites.

He often said he hoped the time would come when Negro History Week would be unnecessary; when all Americans would "willingly recognize the contributions of Black Americans as a legitimate and integral part of the history of this country."

"I'm a fan of it, because it's good to take out the time to celebrate the history of Black people, but at the same time, as years go by, it's seen as just another holiday, especially around here," senior Jermel Smith said.

Black History Month is the time of year when all of those eager to learn about this missing history take time to educate themselves.

There are programs within the community, in churches and in most schools.

These programs include famous speeches from great orators, examples of important inventions created through the years and exhibits that showcase all kinds of music.

"It's a good idea.  In chapel, they were talking about how it was started because of the lack of black history in textbooks," junior Jennifer Blackerby said. "Some people are still racist and I find it hard to believe; it's 2008!  It surprises me that it's necessary.  It's interesting to learn about."

People get together to celebrate athletes who broke the mold and artists and actors who used their talents to advance their people.

This is the time of year when think tanks are organized to discuss issues and overcome challenges in the Black community.

There are feasts that celebrate history through food from the many different countries in the continent of Africa, the various islands and the American south.

Some feel this is a time to come together, enjoy each other and learn about the things that unite us.

"As an HBCU [Historically Black College or University] graduate, I enjoyed the various activities that occurred on campus all through the month of February. I also enjoyed being around African-Americans from different places, both in the country and around the world," Waynokia Viltz said. "I've made numerous friends and appreciate what I've learned from them."

Despite many of those who believe this month is to make Black people stand out or further seclude themselves, this month is about commemoration and evaluation.

It's not about singling out but about restoring a missing history and finally being included by celebrating the movements and the people who have gotten us to this point.

"I've helped out with a lot of the Black History Month activities, and learned a lot from the speakers and events.  If it were a four-year school, I would have stayed there, because I enjoyed the experience of constantly being in the company of African-Americans. Being at a predominately white university, this is considered just another holiday because some of the African-Americans and a lot of Caucasians are uneducated about the history of our culture," senior Waynokia Viltz said. 

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