Some History Of Black History Month

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[Black History Month: Essay]


For Black America—indeed, for all of America—two of the most noteworthy historical milestones of the calendar year could not have occurred at a better time than not long after the very start.

Within weeks of the seven-day, year-end celebration of Kwanzaa was the weekend observance designated to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, without saying the foremost African luminary of the 20th century. By now, particularly after recent years, the observance should have been embraced not only by Black America, but by virtually all of the entire national mainstream.

To the chagrin of more than a few in at least some quarters of the historical community, though, the King holiday is still looked upon all too often, by all too many African Americans and by all too many within the larger society, as an observance of a Black American, by Black Americans, and for Black Americans—exclusively.

In the view of at least a few historians, nothing could be further from the truth. Dr. King’s legacy extends so far beyond the African American domain as to render ludicrous the opinions of at least a few mainstream columnists, commentators and contributors, and all too many in high places.

To cite one example among all too many, one spokesman in print, of questionable renown, put forth the inclusion of the King Holiday as an instance of “affirmative action [getting] out of control.”

Witness, readers: A great many millions outside Black America have benefited from the infinite wisdom that has underscored the manifold merits of Dr. King’s legacy. To cite a very noticeable example, the Latin American nation within the American nation—more populous, surprisingly to at least some, that the African American nation within said nation—has benefited more than appreciably from the implicit teachings of Dr. King.

Billboards, telephone instructions and even television programming dubbed in Spanish, in addition to Latino—based broadcast outlets, more than before, have been become omnipresent upon the general landscape.

Upon observation, more than a few might have asked, in considerable wonder: Why is it that Chicano/Boricua society has not taken the trouble to learn English the way ancestors generations removed from many detractors of the Latino community have done?

That question, which transcends Latino America to include many other cultures of New Americans would he treated more comprehensively in discourse peripheral to the present essay.  More incumbently, though, it would suffice to exemplify at least one highly conspicuous way a great many outside Black America have been helped by the ideals with which the man with a broad-based dream should be considered synonymous.

No matter how many years in one’s lifetime he or she would witness the weekend observance, usually toward the latter part of the month, in which Dr. King is honored, it should not be overlooked, but disappointingly is overlooked all too often: His actual, official, birthday is January 15. It is this date, midway in the first month of the calendar year that engendered the holiday weekend. This point of origin should not be lost among future generations of Americans, Black or otherwise.

Awareness such as that of the actual date on the calendar from which a national observance has emanated should carry into the month of February. By the year 1926, not long at all before Martin Luther King was born, Carter Godwin Woodson, founder-director of the Association for the study of Negro Life and History, would take it upon himself to look at the calendar and determine an occasion in which Black America could appreciate the significant contributions of their ancestors and contemporaries to the American nation, if not, tangibly, to such of the world house.

As a result, more than in passing, mainstream America would be able to view African Americans in their midst with a heightened attitude of respect. For generations in the past, the racist forbears of the general populace had been hell-bent on foisting upon brothers and sisters, at large and individually, an all too manifest tendency to “hate the day [they] were born.”

Woodson did not have to look far into the calendar for a suitable occasion in which Black American history and culture could be celebrated. Scanning the month of February, he came upon the 12th, the date marking the birth of that alleged Great Emancipator,  Abraham Lincoln.

It would serve to note that often enough during the Civil War; President Lincoln was more intent on preserving the Union than on emancipating the masses of the enslaved in the states that comprised the Confederacy. For one among numerous examples, in an 1862 address at the Cooper Union meeting hail in New York City, he suggested in part that if the preservation of the Union would be contingent upon keeping the overwhelming majority of brothers and sisters residing south of the Mason-Dixon Line in bondage, he would advocate the continuation of the slave era in America.

Such a promulgation toward reversing the dissolution of the Union should serve as proof negative about the status of Abraham Lincoln in African American history. In any event, after taking into account whatever positive merits of America’s 16th president he would perceive, all that Woodson had to do next was look two boxes to the right of February 12.

He knew that the 14th had been agreed upon as the birth date of the foremost African American luminary of the 19th century, Frederick Douglass. The respect he had harbored toward the memory of President Lincoln, on one hand, and toward the appreciable legacy of Brother Douglass, on the other, led Historian Woodson to designate the seven-day period that included the two birthdates, more often than not February 11 to 18, as Negro History Week.

Let not the origin of African American History Month be lost on Black America or on the national mainstream. The month long observance has emanated—and Carter G. Woodson tacitly has alluded to the very likelihood of its crystallizing—from the weeklong observance commemorating Abraham Lincoln, questionably, and Frederick Douglass, unequivocally.

Through eight decades and counting, the annual occasion has merited such stature and recognition that, in 1975, the president of the United States, the late Gerald R. Ford, declared Black History Month an official national observance.

With the calendar date of Dr. King’s birth fixed in the inner sanctum of American society, and time marching toward its 80th year, let all sisters and brothers, and the multitudes of others, live to build, innovate and enrich, with Dr. King’s legacy the foundation for thought, word and deed so enlightened as to make the reverend proud.

With the origins of African American historical observance, an occasion well entrenched in the Black and mainstream mindset as it proceeds into its ninth decade, let American society at large, its vanguard buttressed by African Americans among a great many others of color, celebrate a proud heritage Black America long has earned by birth.

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