By Leah Conway
The concept of Black History Month has developed from historian Carter G. Woodson’s original idea of the ‘negro history month’ which was founded in February 1926 in the US. Woodson wanted to create a way that would challenge his contemporaries’ presumptions that ‘the negro had no history’ and focus people on black history, culture and contributions to civilisation. With the external influences of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, it was decided in 1969 that a week was not long enough, which created the first Black History Month.
Soon the idea of Black History Month crossed the Atlantic after, special projects officer of the greater London council, Akyaaba Addai Sebo visited America in the 1970s and later founded the UK’s version of Black History Month in 1987.
Why February in the US and October in the UK?
In the US, February is the designated month because it coincides with two important American figures involved with black history. One is President Abraham Lincoln, who delivered the Emancipation Proclamation – the first step towards abolition of slavery in the US. The other is Fredrick Douglas, who after escaping from slavery became a pioneering leader of the abolitionist movement.
In the UK, there are two paths of thought behind why Black History Month is in October. Firstly, October is traditionally the month in which African chiefs and leaders gather to make peace and as UK founder, Akyaaba Addai Sebo was Ghanaian- Born, it was chosen as the month to reconnect with African roots. The more influential aspect was Akyaaba’s desire to install within black children a sense of self-pride, October being near the beginning of the school year, the idea was that it would fill back children with a strong sense of identity and pride as they go through the year.
Importance of black history
From the videos you can see that black history is so important to those in the African-Descent community. People’s responses show the importance in learning about the past and your ancestors because it lets you know who you are and what community you are part of, which is vital in constructing and understanding your identity for all generations. The videos also highlight the lack of provisions there are in the education system to learn about black history and that one often has to take it up into their own hands; Black History Month is a step towards improving this case.
Is it enough?
It is unquestionable that Black History Month is vital for embedding black history into the education system and providing a basis for young black children’s development of identity and pride. However, there is the prevailing question of whether a month is sufficient. Why should a communities’ history be relegated to a month, after years of their history being denied of them and dismissed? There are little other provisions in schools for learning about black history beside Black History Month. Furthermore, the history presented within that Black History Month can be argued, as Kasai Rex does, to be made ‘palatable for white consumption’ and this can be supported by the evident repetitive use of the same narratives of black history, which often sanitize and obscure the reality of black history by hiding behind biographies of heroic black figures.
Despite this, Black History Month remains vital until black history is integrated into the mainstream rather than a separate phenomenon that is ritualised for exclusively one month per year. Black History Month remains a great opportunity to celebrate the achievements, culture and history of the black community and will always remain relevant and vital in our multi-cultural country.