Letter to the Editor: Re-evaluating the Purpose of Black History Month

by Danielle Buckingham

     Every year during Black History Month, we recognize notable African Americans. However, this special occasion is becoming more of a repeating ritual than a celebration of new progress. We continue to place heavy emphasis on figures such as Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, but we overlook individuals whose accomplishments never received national recognition. The sole purpose of Black History Month is slowly being lost in the past, overshadowing the present-day individuals who consistently open doors for African Americans.

So, what is the purpose of Black History Month, and why is it important? Let’s start with the origin of Black History Month. In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson initiated Black History Week in order to shed light on the contributions of African Americans throughout history. Woodson pushed this celebration of black history because of the non-existent recognition of African Americans in educational settings, and the lack of black role models for children. In 1976, Black History Week was extended to the entire month of February, recognizing the history of African Americans that for so long had been hidden and ignored.

Today, as we celebrate, we tend to forget the history and the origin of this occasion. Woodson and other notable Black historians spent years doing research to uncover the lost history of African Americans. Their efforts opened the doors for individuals, such as Martin Luther King, to be remembered and respected. Sadly, these efforts are overlooked, and the purpose of this month is consistently undermined.

I believe that Black History Month has become too commercial and, often, the root of unnecessary antagonism. It bothers me that movies such as Mississippi Burning, Roots and other films with heavy racial violence get aired more frequently during this month. We also see an increased focus on tragic events, such as the killing of Trayvon Martin, during Black History Month when issues similar to this happen every day throughout the country. My point is we cannot use only this month to acknowledge issues that deserve attention year-round. We cannot constantly drown ourselves in reminders of the brutal times in African Americans history. In doing this, the victimization of African Americans is diminished, and we become overcomers.

Black History Month helps us remember how far we have come, and it serves as motivation for us to keep pushing to make more advancements for people of color. Woodson’s purpose was to inform not only black people, but all people, about black history and how African Americans have contributed to this country. It was never about praising the famous or remembering only those that made the news. This is a celebration rooted in the pursuit of knowledge and equality for everyone. We need to embrace and appreciate what the past has awarded us and build from that in order to regain the importance of our history.