The history of African-Americans did not begin in America; it began in 8000 B.C. on the continent of Africa through the great civilizations of Nubians, Kushites and Egyptians. We should celebrate African-American History Month because the experiences of African-Americans and their contributions have played an integral part in the building, development, and history of the United States of America. African-American History is American History.
The story of Black History Month begins in Chicago during the late summer of 1915. An alumnus of the University of Chicago with many friends in the city, Carter G. Woodson traveled from Washington, D.C. to participate in a national celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation sponsored by the state of Illinois. Thousands of African Americans traveled from across the country to see exhibits highlighting the progress their people had made since the destruction of slavery. Awarded a doctorate at Harvard three years earlier, Woodson joined the other exhibitors with a black history display.
Woodson chose February for reasons of tradition and reform. It is commonly said that Woodson selected February to encompass the birthdays of two great Americans who played a prominent role in shaping black history, namely Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, whose birthdays are the 12th and the 14th , respectively. The 1960s had a dramatic effect on the study and celebration of black history. Before the decade was over, Negro History Week would be well on its way to becoming Black History Month.
There continues to be debate as to whether or not it should be called Black History Month or African-American History Month. Based on the national climate during the 1960’s and 70’s, (James Brown’s hit record, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud!” and Nina Simone’s “Young, Gifted and Black!”) many felt it should be Black History Month. An opposing view is tied to the recognition, appreciation, and connection of our African heritage. It should be called African-American vs. Black History Month because other cultures do not indicate their monthly celebration by referring to a color.
The significance of Black History Month is especially important to young people so that they will fully know American History. Materials at the Forest Park Library and attending the Forest Park Historical Society and other community events are encouraged. I recommend viewing 3 recent movies relative to African-American History: Lincoln, Twelve Years a Slave and The Butler. Worth visiting are the DuSable Museum of African-American History (Chicago) and the West Town Museum (Maywood).
Special thanks to Daryl Michael Scott, Professor of History, Howard University.
Lawrence D. Broughton currently serves as a Director on the Forest Park Historical Society. He is a retired Social Studies teacher (Proviso East) with over 37 years in education and is listed as a reviewer of four social studies textbooks. He is a past commissioner of the Illinois Amistad Commission appointed by the State Senate President, whose responsibility is to work with IHPA and ISBE to promote education and awareness of slavery and the African slave trade.