On this, the first week of Black History Month, it’s important to take a look back at the circumstances that led to what was initially designed to be the kick off to a yearlong celebration of Black people’s history, culture and contributions to civilizations throughout the world.
And while many fully embrace the tenets behind Black History Month, I too often hear people talking about how Black folks can’t have nothing and how “they” care so little about us, that we (Black folk) were given the shortest month of the year to celebrate who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going. My now knee-jerk reaction to this line of thought is to roll my eyes, shake my head, and then plow dead into a conversation meant to “enlighten” the spewers of such nonsense because, as many have said, if you don’t know better, you can’t do better.
So, to speak in colloquialisms of the day (my day at least), it’s time to do the knowledge with n—as so that we won’t be so n—-erish no’ mo…no’ mo (that’s a Trinidad James reference for those of you who unaware. LBS. And for those who have a problem with the word “n—a,” I use it here to mean ignorant, as it is sometimes defined in the dictionary).
Now let’s get into it.
The elder Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a self-described “radical” and son of former slaves who didn’t enter high school until the age of 20, but who eventually became the second Black man (behind W.E.B. Dubois) to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University when he did so at age 37, decided to expand his craft of unearthing the excellence of the Negro by hosting the first ever Negro History Week in 1926. After founding the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915, and publishing the first Journal of Negro History (now known as the Journal of African American History) in 1916, Woodson felt compelled to take even further steps in championing Black history by developing a truth-based curriculum to be shared with the world. His scathing critique of existing history courses in the education system as “downright propaganda” gives a glimpse of the fire that burned inside of him and the passion that pushed him along in his life’s work. Beyond the established education system, a growing number of charlatans and faux-conference presenters were beginning to pop up, claiming to know the history of the Negro but who, in Woodson’s opinion, were truly just as ignorant as those they sought to inspire.
So Carter G. decided to put the smack down.
Negro History Week was created. Information was produced, published and presented by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History to people all over the world. The particular week of reflection in February was a strategic choice because of the well-established Negro tradition of celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays, which fall about a week apart from one another.
And though many initially shunned the information, Woodson and his team soldiered on. Woodson went on to publish what many recognize as his seminal work, The Mis-education of the Negro, in 1933, and continued to build a library of works and a cadre of new leaders who have continued to push the concept of Black relevance and excellence even after his death in 1950.
Black History Week was expanded to Black History Month in 1976, and it has been celebrated the world over ever since. Why is it important? Peep the words as written and spoken directly by Carter G. himself.
TJ Crawford is a hip-hop generation social entrepreneur dedicated to expanding and empowering his community. Get at him on twitter (@tjcrawford4real) or on instagram (@therealtjcrawford).