Carter G. Woodson, the son of former slaves, earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1912, becoming the second African-American to earn a Ph.D. in history.
In 1915, Dr. Woodson and other African-American scholars founded an association to promote the study of African-American life and history. Shortly thereafter, he began serving as editor of the association’s scholarly publication, The Journal of Negro History.
In 1926, Woodson initiated the observance of a special period to recognize African-American history for one week in February, the first Black History Week.
He wanted to teach the public at large about African-American contributions to history, hoping in the process to instill in blacks a sense of racial pride.
This event was observed in schools and other institutions throughout the country. However, years later the observance expanded to include the entire month of February. Today, Black History Month is an event that is widely celebrated.
Woodson’s efforts were necessary since black history had been long ignored in history books as well as in society as a whole. White historians, reflecting the dominant society’s attitudes, mentioned African-Americans only in passing and usually in a negative way.
A few historians of color wrote books or articles contesting this mission, but their comments were patronizingly ignored.
Though these pioneer historians accomplished significant work, black faces remained largely absent from the pages of mainstream American history.
The major changes in this pattern of omission resulted from the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Educational and intellectual institutions came to recognize the extent of their anti-black discrimination and sought to make amends.
As a result, historians, both black and white, began looking at American history in a new light.
Black heroes began to take their places alongside the white heroes enshrined in history books.
In recent years, a fundamental rethinking of all of American history has revealed that the rich heritage of America is the result of a struggle of all its peoples, playing the roles that conditions and circumstances have allowed them to play.
Celebrating Black History Month permits all Americans to learn from the fresh interpretations and insights provided by new studies while allowing African-Americans to reflect on their rich heritage.
Throughout the month of February, several organizations, institutions and individuals celebrate Black History Month.
Movies, lectures, debates, commentaries and television documentaries are numerous.
The Internet includes a vast array of Web pages dedicated to not only African-American history but specifically to Black History Month.
Each can commemorate this period in his own way.
The experience of black Americans is an integral part of the nation’s history. The knowledge of this history has given blacks a sense of self-esteem and self-respect that has sustained them during difficult times.
On the other hand, exploitation and injustice have characterized too much of our nation’s past. From time to time, we need to reflect on that aspect of our history.
Let us use the past as a guide to build a better future, perhaps to help make the nation’s democratic ideals a reality.
Black History Month is a special period set aside to focus our attention on a previously neglected aspect of our nation’s history. This year, in addition, we can pause a moment and honor the contributions of Carter G. Woodson, “Father of Black History” and a pioneer of multiculturalism.
Dr. Horace Nash is a history professor at this college.