Black History Month

Its Purpose and Tips to Celebrate

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“Black history is American history, and so American history is still relevant, and our history as a country is so deep and long that we need to continue to rediscover those unknown facts.”

Black History Month began as “Negro History Week” in 1926, formed by Dr. Carter G Woodson, in honor of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. It was also an effort to add the accomplishments of African-American to the curricula taught in the education system.

But somehow, as all things change, Black History Month has turned into a watered-down, Greatest Hits compilation of talented people turning a profit off what the original intent was within the observation of the history of African-Americans.

Derrick Flynn, a student at the University of North Alabama, believes that Black History Month shows how far African-Americans have to go to remove the toleration of hate.

“There are so many shades of black. Different subcultures and personalities that shape us as a whole,” he said. “Black History Month allows for the opportunity to express ourselves without being labelled as one entity.”

“Being black is more than just a label,” he continued, “it’s a story of resistance and self-discovery in a world that loves to define us under one thing.”

Black History Month wasn’t officially observed by the United States Government until 1976. President Gerald Ford gave a very brief speech. “In celebrating Black History Month, we can take satisfaction from this recent progress in the realization of the ideals envisioned by our Founding Fathers.,” Ford said. “But, even more than this, we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.

Some people have different views on Black History Month, like Gabrielle Fuqua. “I don’t think black history should be celebrated just one month out of the year,” she said.

“Black history, and the history of other cultures, should be celebrated throughout the year!” Fuqua said.

As U.S. history moves further from the horrors of slavery and even the more recent Civil Rights Movement, the question of whether Black History Month is relevant is one Joan Williams, director of diversity and institutional equity at the University of North Alabama, has an answer to.

Rosa Parks and friends

“When we talk about black history it’s important for people to understand our history, American history and the contributions that African-American have made to the United States and how we as a population of people have evolved and the contributions that have been made,” she said.

The purpose of the month is also to understand the challenges that people overcame and how they did so, she said.

“Maybe we can learn how people overcame challenges before and implement some of those same changes now,” she said.

Another question that may arise is what individuals can do for the monthlong celebration. Luckily, Williams has some tips.

Self Educate

1. Self-educate.

“Everything cannot be put in a history book,” Williams said. “Take in opportunities to learn more about American history and all the wonderful facets of American history and contributions that have been made by so many diverse people – not all men, either.”

There are many of opportunities to take charge of self-education during the month, including enjoying a film. Williams said she has seen recent films that help spread knowledge of African-American history.

“I think the movie Hidden Figures brings to life part of why black history and American history go hand in hand and why we need to continue to celebrate and discover it,” she said. “It gives us an opportunity to learn little known facts.

"Hidden Figures" features a march of African American women at NASA.

“Hidden Figures” features a march of African American women at NASA.

“This story about three African-American women and their contributions to American history. They were three scientists at NASA who were trying to put a man in space. They were polymaths, human computers, and they faced much discrimination in the forms of sexism and racism. They overcame all of that and made a space for women in science, technology, engineering, and math. Their story had never been told on a large scale and most people didn’t know that story. That story is a great explanation of why Black History Month and black history, period, is still relevant and part of American history.”

Williams also suggested documentaries and books as ways to gain knowledge.

One documentary that she highly recommends is “The African-American: Many Rivers to Cross.” The PBS docuseries highlights much of the African-American experience from slavery to the second election of President Barack Obama.

Another resource during the month is History channel, or its website, which will have speeches, shows and other media to chronical historical accomplishments in the African-American community.

Have a conversation

2. Have a conversation.

“Just talk to someone about their culture, and you’ll learn things about people,” Williams said.

The people to converse with during the month could range from a professor to a friend or stranger. The point is to see what can be learned about people’s culture and the history they know, she said.

“Just engage – that’s the most important thing,” she said. “You don’t have to write a paper, just engage with other people, and that will help you to learn abought contributions, (like) our local history here in the Shoals, and gain more knowledge, and that really is the goal.

Participate in events

3.Participate in events.

Lastly, Williams suggests going to a few events related to black history, many of which are free during the month.

One such event on UNA’s campus will be the Black Student Alliance’s Black History Program Feb. 9. The event will feature UNA History professor Ansley Quiros as the keynote speaker. Quiros’ areas of expertise include the Civil Rights Movement, Southern history and African-American history.

Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm

Another place to attend events in the Shoals is the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library.

One of their events will be, “The Power of Poetry, Motion, Blues and Jazz” Feb. 5 at 3 p.m. The concert will include spoken word, music and dance.

The library will also have the event “Gospel and Grace” Feb. 19 at 3 p.m., which will showcase local gospel artists and groups as well as teach about the gospel tradition.

All in all, there are many ways to celebrate Black History Month. Williams’ tips, although not an exhaustive list, are certainly a starting point to becoming more educated and understanding the purpose of the holiday.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.