Opinion: Obedience to black history begins in a week. Time for a full season
Editor’s Note: Dr Jemar Tisby is the author of the book “Color of compromise” And “How to fight racism.” He is a professor of history at Simmons University of Kentucky, and writes regularly at JemarTisby.Substack.com. The views expressed here are their own. Read more comments on CNN.
Nearly 50 years ago, political leaders deemed Black history so important to national identity that they quadrupled the time officially devoted to it.
Black History Month began as a single week, Negro History Week, in 1926 with a vision of Carter G. Woodson. 1976, it expanded to an entire month as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebrations; Since President Gerald Ford, every US president has officially designated February as Black History Month.
When we think of Black history in single terms—a test, a class, a month—we may miss its deeper meanings. Historians talk of the “permanent Civil Rights movement” as a way of thinking more carefully about its predecessor and its lasting effects. Maybe it’s time to think about a “Long Black History Month”.
My boss, Simmons University president Kevin W. Cosby, recently inspired me to consider the power of taking Black history beyond the confines of February. He told me, “My Black History Month begins on MLK Day.”
Immediately, his views made sense to me. We observe MLK Day nationwide on the third Monday of January. This is one of the most recognized annual traditions related to Black history and the Civil Rights movement. Great effort goes into planning the annual MLK Day events—speeches, awards ceremonies, parades, marches, service opportunities, etc.
Does it make sense to pause the memories that accompany MLK Day for two weeks until the start of Black History Month or simply continue the movement of memory for another two weeks?
Cosby went on to explain that the end of Black History Season could be April 4, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The aim will not be to focus on Black Death, but to reflect on the causes and consequences of adamantly demanding civil and human rights.
If we stop to think about the significance of the month marking to the history of Blacks in America, we will see once again that—time is everything.
The idea of an all-month Black history is not new. The people of West Virginia, where Woodson grew up, used to celebrate “Black History Month” began in the 1940s. Black students at Kent State University propose Black History Month 1969.
A few years later, in 1976, Ford officially declared the nation’s observance of Black History Month. Using the year 1776 and the Declaration of Independence as the nation’s “founding” date, a year of patriotic activism was planned for the country’s 200th birthday in 1976. As part of the second anniversary celebrations centenary of the country, political officials designated the month of February for Black history.
In a statement marking the event, Ford speak“On our bicentennial, we can review with admiration the impressive contributions black Americans have made to our national life and culture.”
Ford also connects Black History Month with the stated liberal ideals that led to the founding of the United States.
“Freedom and recognition of individual rights are all that our Revolution is about. They are the ideals that inspired our struggle for independence: ideals that we have tried to live up to ever since. However, it took many years before the ideal became a reality for black citizens.”
Contrast that with another Republican: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. In January, DeSantis and his administration protest AP African American Studies frameworks compiled by the College Board. He said the frameworks “lack educational value.” This week, correspondence between the College Board and the state of Florida appeared that amplified the tensionthis is further complicated by DeSantis’ presidential ambitions (and the focus is on his refusal to study race and racism on that agenda).
People in the state of Florida, DeSantis’ home state and across the country have spoken out against to his actions. They argue that opposing the AP African American Study, for the first time ever, has the effect of making it harder to obtain accurate information on Black history and other similar fields when it should be more accessible.
Since then, DeSantis’ proposals to hinder racial education have gone even further. At the end of January, he announced his plans for higher education included required courses in Western Civilization and a desire to “eliminate all DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] and CRT administrative agencies.”
DeSantis is just a symptom of a deeper problem with how we frame Black history. It seems that many people’s understanding of Black history is limited to the scant details of slavery, Rosa Parks refusing to get on a bus and a line or two in her “I Have a Dream” speech. King’s dream”. This is partly because we tend to treat Black history as an event rather than an ongoing pursuit.
Again, among the many reasons our nation lacks knowledge of Black history – timing is everything.
Black history cannot be reduced to a collection of historical tidbits posted on social media for 30 days. We harm Black history by viewing it as a collection of isolated events rather than a series of intricate and intertwined stories sewn into the diverse tapestry of life in this land. At its best, Black history is a way of thinking about oneself and the world in a more inclusive and just way.
Black history teaches us to look at life from the perspective of the marginalized and oppressed. It teaches us about survivors, protestors, and creators. Black history developed a mindset that always asked, “Who is missing? Whose voice needs to be heard?”
I discovered one of my historical heroes, Fannie Lou Hamer, because scholars have been looking for people whose lives are often overlooked. Born in 1917, Hamer was the 20th of 20 children in a farming family in Mississippi. She may have lived and died in the dark – another anonymous poor – but in 1962 she heard a suffrage lecture at her local church and got involved in civic activism. permission. She quickly became nationally known and even testified at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.
How many Hamers are out there? Black history teaches us to scour the past to find a story that goes beyond “winners” and includes all kinds of stories.
A life informed by Black history took years to develop. It requires mental, cultural, and civic space to reflect the rich meanings of the stories and events that make up Black history.
An extended Black History Month will provide more space to consider the Black experience. Instead of skimming through piles of recommendations for books, documentaries, quotes, and dates — adding a few weeks of Black history allows you to soak up knowledge of the past and ponder how it will turn out. How does it affect your present?
More than simply revealing what happened, studying Black history forces us to ask the question, “How can we fix it?”
Those who studied Black history with humility and consistency began talking about restitution, expanding voting rights, and allocating more resources to Black organizations. They begin to question the unjust racial status quo and seek progress. They began to take control of a story that had for too long been in the hands of a privileged few.
Black history is more than just a meme. It’s been over a month now. It is more than a memory. Black history is the mindset that gives us a deeper understanding of ourselves and our communities.