February is Black History Month, and there is an extra incentive to celebrate: 2020 is the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution.
The provision, ratified on Feb. 3, 1870, mandates “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
Black History Month did not become an official festivity until 1976; however, it was begun when historian Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland, an educator and a prominent civic leader, started the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, to publicize African-American accomplishments.
The organization – now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History — sponsored the first Negro History Week in 1926 and honored the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
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Lincoln, born in a log cabin on Feb. 12, 1809, is considered among the country’s greatest presidents. Douglass, an ally of Lincoln, was born a slave on Feb. 14, 1818, and later distinguished himself as an abolitionist, author, educator, orator and statesman.
Negro History Week quickly evolved into an event that inspired schools and communities throughout the country to participate. By 1976 — the country’s bicentennial — Negro History Week was officially rebranded and expanded to what is now Black History Month, by President Gerald Ford.
“The African-American experience has been an integral part of our nation’s history since the colonial times. Black Americans distinguished themselves during the Revolutionary War, endured great suffering before and after the Civil War, and still managed to make great contributions in science, art, literature, and sports,” David Bruce Smith says.
Smith co-founded The Grateful American Book Prize, a history advocacy initiative, with the late Dr. Bruce Cole, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Cole once said Americans had become “historical amnesiacs.”
They inaugurated the prize in 2015 to encourage authors and publishers to produce more interesting books of historical fiction and non-fiction for adolescents, with the hope that over time, historical literacy would rise.
Critics of Black History Month say designating just one month for emphasis on black history is not enough, that black history should be further incorporated into American and world history. As much as we agree that broader teaching of black history is relevant and needed, we don’t favor anything that takes away emphasis on teaching history – in February or any month.
Too little emphasis is today placed on learning history. That is tragic. If people do not know from where they came, they cannot have a full grasp of where they are heading.