February is the month of many things: President’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Black History Month to name a few.
While many of us know the origins of the first two, the latter is often acknowledged, but perhaps not entirely understood.
Black History Month actually began as a week in February 1926. Carter Woodson, a prominent historian, and Jesse Moorland, a minister, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.
They developed the idea of Negro History Week as a time to celebrate and recognize contributions African Americans have made to civilization. They chose the second week of February because both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays coincide with the time. The week was extended to a month under President Gerald Ford.
The United States is not the only country with a month dedicated to African Americans. Both Canada and the United Kingdom also have months with their own celebration, since the early 1980’s.
So what does Black History Month celebrate?
For starters, it gives a platform to acknowledge and appreciate all those who, through small acts and large ones, helped change and shape a nation. It draws attention to men and women who might have otherwise been overlooked by history.
Everyone knows the names of Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Martin Luther King Jr., but for every name remembered, there are a hundred that time has forgotten or tried to erase.
Stories of bravery and intelligence. Stories that may relate to us more than we think, like the Greensboro Sit-In which was staged by a group of four college students with no connection to any civil rights organizations.
Those four men were the same age as many of the students at Mercyhurst, and their actions proved to be a catalyst in the civil rights movement.
You cannot have a history as steeped in racism as ours and pretend there will be no lasting effects.
It has been less than a hundred years since Brown v. Board of Education ended de jure segregation in schools. Some of the professors in this school lived through the Civil Rights Movement, less than a 50 years since its conclusion.
As far as history goes, it isn’t old news, but sometimes as a nation we try to forget things quickly. We let them sit by the wayside because it’s too painful or embarrassing to discuss.
This month encourages the study of an often overlooked part of history.
Black History Month allows us to recognize achievements of people and important events that generally are not put into the spotlight of history.
It serves as a time to reflect on the past and point toward a hopeful future.