YWCA Southeast Wisconsin
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February 2018

By Jamaal Smith, Racial Justice Community Engagement Manager, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin

No American History without Black History

Before Carter G. Woodson, renowned author of “The Mis-education of the Negro” and founder of The Journal of Negro History, launched the celebration of Negro History Week in 1926, it was apparent that the contributions of African Americans to the growth and development of this country would be completely disregarded. The purpose of Negro History Week was to encourage coordinated teaching efforts of the history of African Americans in public schools across the country. Even though the desegregation of schools would not happen until nearly 30 years later via the Brown v. Board of Education decision, Woodson felt compelled to push this initiative because he believed it was essential to “ensure the physical and intellectual survival of the race within broader society.” Woodson believed whites should be educated on Black history because it was a part of their history as well. He selected the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of former President Abraham Lincoln (12th) and abolitionist Frederick Douglas (14th), both of which were celebrated within Black communities since the latter years of the 19th century.

Critics of Black History Month have long protested against the annual recognition, citing various reasons such as fairness in regards to other races or the limiting of Black history to one month. But, I believe former President Gerald Ford said it best when, during his recognition speech of Black History Month in 1976, he stated that Americans should “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Since 1976, every U.S. President has acknowledged the month of February as Black History Month. Despite many efforts and annual acknowledgement, the contribution of Black people continues to remain an afterthought, a forgotten notion once February is over.

From chattel slavery through the Civil Rights and Black Power era and into the Black Lives Matter movement, Black people have long contributed to the advancement of American culture and challenged America when it has not lived up to its founding principles. Black people have long dreamed of experiencing the American dream; however, racial intolerance and oppression have long been barriers to the dream becoming reality, thus the reason civil rights leader Malcolm X stated, “We are experiencing an American nightmare.” The actions of Colin Kaepernick and other sports figures were to remind America of its pledge in favor of “liberty and justice for all”. Is that not the very definition of patriotism, having such a love and devotion for your country that you are willing to speak out when it has lost its way? This is why Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “There can be no great disappointment where there is not deep love.” Black people have proven to have a love for America, even when America has refused to reciprocate this love.

Contrary to popular opinion, Black people are just as much a fixture in the fabric of America as any other race, if not more. The blood, sweat, and tears of Black Americans permeate through America’s past and will continue through the present and beyond. There is absolutely no such thing as American history without the inclusion of Black history. Although it is officially celebrated in February, its recognition should be continued year round. Without Black people, America as we know it might not even exist. To deny this truth is to deny our existence as a nation.