January 31, 2012

Milwaukee Courier

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is a like tree without roots.

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

February is the time of year when we, as African-Americans, honor the contributions we have made to the development of the United States and the world. It is a time for all those who identify as black, be they African-American, Haitian, or Ethiopian, reflect and celebrate our African heritage and culture. As we reflect, it is important to understand the struggles and sacrifices of our forefathers. In that vein, I would like to dedicate this week’s column to the creator of Black History Month, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, and the creation of the tradition.

Since 1926, African-Americans have annually recognized black history. It began as “Negro History Week” and evolved to “Black History Month;” before either of those traditions began, black history was not studied and barely documented. Despite the fact that black people have been in America for centuries, our history was not deemed worthy of inclusion in history books until the 20th century.

The disregard for black history disturbed Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the founder of Negro History Week and, by extension, Black History Month. Born to parents who were former slaves, Dr. Woodson spent his childhood working in the coal mines of West Virginia. He enrolled in high school when he was twenty years old and graduated within two years; he late went on to earn his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1912. While he was preparing his dissertation, he noted that the contributions, culture and history of African-Americans were completely absent. When blacks were mentioned, it was always in reference to their social, physical or mental inferiority. He established the Associate for the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History) in 1915 and, in 1926, he launched Negro History Week to bring national attention to the contributions of black people throughout our nation’s history.

Dr. Woodson chose the second week of February because for Negro History Week because it marks the birthdays of two men he believed greatly influenced black history: Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. The month of February figures significantly in our history for a few more reasons. For example, on February 3, 1970, the 15th Amendment was passed and granted blacks the right to vote. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded on February 12, 1909. W.E.B DuBois, who was one of the co-founders of the NAACP and an inexhaustible leader of the civil rights movement in the early 20th century, was born on February 23, 1868. The first black U.S. senator, Hiram R. Revels, took his oath of office on February 25, 1870. A group of courageous, trailblazing college students began a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina on February 1, 1960; that event became a milestone in the Civil Rights Movement.

So as we celebrate Black History Month this year, I hope that you will share not only our history, but the history behind the month commemorating our history.