• Jena Prystowsky

Black History


It's Black history month and I've enjoyed reading interesting tidbits about several historical figures I'd never learned much about before. Several of my Facebook friends have been kind enough to share Black History Month posts that have been quite educational.


Unfortunately, not everyone sees the value of Black History Month, with its opponents calling it anything from superfluous to "racist." "Why do they need to have their own month?" the more vocal ones complain. "Don't we have history in school?" I was surprised to find that a friend of mine from high school felt this way and had gone even further, calling Black History Month one of the reasons why Black people "can't move forward" or "progress in society." Despite the obvious errors in his assumption that Black people haven't "moved forward" or "progressed in society," there was also the fact that he said it made Black people angry and bitter. Obviously not everyone understands why we have a Black History Month and could use some education on the subject.


Carter G. Woodson, an historian, and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History started "Negro History Week" in February of 1926. The month of February was chosen because it was the birth month of two notable figures, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The purpose of this week was to provide education about the lives and history of American Black people. In fact, there was a push for this education to occur more often in schools. Black History Month later emerged in 1970.


Opponents of Black History Month decry it as being a time for Black people to reflect on our suffering as slaves and the struggle through decades of unfair laws, abuse, unequal treatment, and discrimination (some of which continues to occur to this day, especially in the realm of criminal justice.) "Move on!" They crow. Their outlook is erroneous and demonstrates the poor scope of our school curriculums when it comes to teaching the history of those of color. Slavery, the Jim Crow Years, and all of those decades are not the summation of what Black people are. It never has been, even when a sizable population of Black people were slaves, or when Black people were being lynched, or when we suffered any number of indignities perpetrated by both the brazen and those who simply didn't care to change things. Most Black people came from Africa at some point, which has a rich history that is barely studied in most public schools. Brought to the United States to serve as a brute labor force, Black people have nonetheless, made considerable contributions to science, education, sports, music, the arts, and other areas. Many of those who oppose Black History Month, and even some who are outright racist, listen to music, use products, and use slang that Black people have created. It's a marvelous irony. A marvelously stupid irony.


After the years of slavery passed, we have continued to make tremendous gains in the political arena, in engineering, and in space. Far from making us into "bitter people" or "keeping us from progressing as a group," remembering our history has made us stronger. What is the downside to learning the wonderful contributions made by our ancestors? Or even if you cannot claim them as an ancestor or as kin, what is the downside to learning more about people we don't often hear about? Why not learn the triumphs of people of color as well as the tragedies? Children who may look at the stunted media and feel hobbled by discrimination or baseless hatred can find hope in knowing that people who looked just like them and faced similar, or worse, circumstances have done incredible things despite daunting odds. These children will create our better tomorrows. What's the downside in giving them hope?


Opponents of Black History Month are often not aware that there are other educational months (why would they know that, right?). March is National Women's History Month. May is Asian Pacific American Heritage, Older Americans month, and Jewish American Heritage Month. June is Gay Lesbian Pride month. September is National Hispanic-Latino Heritage month. October is national Disability Employment Awareness month and National Italian Heritage month. November is National American Indian Heritage month. There are so many wonderful celebrations of learning throughout the year- that is open to all of us, regardless of our background.


I look forward to learning more about Black history this month (as I am realizing day by day that I am woefully uneducated on many great Black historical figures.) I also look forward to learning more about other groups' history throughout this year. I owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who is spreading facts and providing education, especially those who teach in schools and feel the constraints of limited budgets and an already overwhelming curriculum.


Happy learning, everyone!


Diversitycentral.com: Heritage Month Guide




*Photo courtesy of Ancella Bickley Collection, West Virginia State Archives