In 1976, two hundred years after our country was founded, President Ford instated Black History Month as a national holiday in order to celebrate the widely overlooked and whitewashed accomplishments of Black Americans. Growing up in schools that “celebrate” this event, our students learn about the same five Black Americans every year, and complain about it. All month, comments can be overheard such as “why don’t we have a white history month?” Our students can recite the made up story of Abraham Lincoln cutting down a cherry tree, but may not remember Ruby Bridges name and story. For some reason, we have a serious problem honoring the Black communities contributions to America. As a country, we need to get over ourselves.
Even the most prominent figures celebrated during the month of February don’t have their stories told transparently. Ask students about Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and 99 percent of them will tell you about his “I Have a Dream” speech. Very few will bring up him leading the Montgomery bus boycott, or the FBI’s involvement in trying to wipe him out. 99 percent of students will tell you Malcolm X was “a more dangerous version of MLK,” when this simply isn’t the case. Very few would be able to tell you about the Black nationalism movement he led, and how he advocated only for self defense, and urged AGAINST unnecessary violence. 99 percent of students will do their Black history month projects on MLK, Rosa Parks, or Fredrick Douglas. Very few will do research and actually try to learn Black History. 99 percent of students will label the Black Panthers as a terrorist group, or as the “Black version of the KKK.” Very few could tell you their values, ideals, or practices. Very few students could name historical names such as Annie Malone, Stokely Carmichael, David Ruggles, Elijah Muhammad, Fannie Lou Hammer, Harry T., Harriette Moore, Michael Donald, and the list can go on and on.
Black History is celebrated one month out of the twelve, and usually in sad proportions. February is often closed with no new knowledge on Black historical figures, and no effort is put in March-January. Black History Month was created to tell the stories of Black Americans throughout history, and America is doing the minimum. Many students will agree with the premises of the holiday but not put in the effort. Many students will agree with everything written in this article but blame it on their school. It is not only the public schools job to make sure America becomes educated in this area. While they should be held accountable, it is also the job of individual students, parents, teachers, and every other group in America to put in the work towards equality in this area. That means reading articles, listening to podcasts, buying books, and diversifying who you follow on social media. Evaluate yourself and be honest about how much you care about equality in America. Black History Month is not an accusation at you, it’s an opportunity to affirm those around you. Time won’t merge Black History with American History, so get over yourself and do the work.