In 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced that the second week in February should be “Negro History Week.” This week was chosen because African-Americans had long been celebrating the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14).From the very beginning, the purpose of the Negro History Week was to encourage the coordinated teaching of the history of Black Americans in U.S. public schools. The departments of education of North Carolina, Delaware, and West Virginia as well as the school boards of the cities of Baltimore and Washington, DC, took part in the first Negro History Week.
As the years went by, Negro History Week became increasingly popular. It was embraced by departments of education in many states, as well as by journalists and churches. It promoted interest in black history among teachers and white progressives, and it led to the creation of black history clubs.
In February of 1969, the leadership of the Black United Students at Kent State University in Ohio suggested that Negro History Week should be expanded into Black History Month. This expansion was recognized by the federal government as part of the Bicentennial celebration. Today, February is also celebrated as Black History Month in Canada, whereas October is celebrated as Black History Month in the United Kingdom. Likewise, the establishment of March 8 as International Women’s Day in 1911 led to the development of Women’s History Week, which grew into Women’s History Month.
The purpose of these celebrations of Black History Month and Women’s History Month have been intended to correct the neglect of black people and women by historians and history curricula. However, some critics have voiced concern that lessons about black people and women should not be segregated from the rest of the history curriculum. Instead, these lessons should be integrated into the rest of the curriculum.
I think that the neglect of African-American history is really just the tip of a large and dangerous iceberg. I think that the larger problem is a serious neglect of world history, especially ancient history. I think that the teaching of history in general and world history in particular have been suppressed in the interests of promoting white supremacy.
If anyone in the ancient world had suggested the idea that Nordic people were somehow superior to other human beings, he or she would have been laughed out of the room. Great civilizations in Africa and Asia were laying the groundwork for the marvelous achievements of the modern age at a time when the people in Northern Europe were unlettered barbarians. This awkward truth can be obscured only if students know practically nothing about the history of the world.
Photo by DrPhotoMoto