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Historian Carter G. Woodson (and former Howard professor) founded Negro History Week in 1926, which eventually expanded to Black History Month.

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Voices from the Hill

Thank you to everyone who responded to this month’s question. Below are the responses. Historian Carter G. Woodson (and former Howard professor) founded Negro History Week in 1926, which eventually expanded to Black History Month. Given the accomplishments of African Americans since then, do you think that we need to continue to celebrate Black History Month? Please explain why we should or should not.

While talking to a young Black filmmaker at a function, I acknowledged Charlene Drew Jarvis and informed the filmmaker that Jarvis was the daughter of Charles Drew. “Who is Charles Drew?” she asked. A man once told me he had never heard of Frederick Douglass or Charles Drew. Not only is Black History Month still relevant, many of us still don’t get it. How many of us walk across this campus every day and don’t know for whom the Blackburn Center, Childer’s Hall, the Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library, Locke Hall, not to mention Drew and Douglass Halls, are named?
—Donna M. Wells, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center
Yes, Black History Month should definitely be continued—not because I’m a history teacher, but because, without that regular and ongoing burst of public information about “Black History,” our nation would soon, if only by default, slip back into the kind of historical white-washing that Black History Month founder Carter G. Woodson was trying to systematically undo. Every February there are many people who come up to me, as a history instructor, to share with me that they saw and enjoyed this-or-that Black-history film or program shown on TV. I know that Black History Month is working.
—Craig A. Schiffert, Dept. of History

When Carter G. Woodson established Negro History Week in 1926, he wanted Black and White Americans to understand that African-American history is American history. Negro History Week was a teaser to encourage teachers and laypersons alike to study our rich heritage. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History has now expanded the week to a month and produces excellent educational resources for use throughout the year. Over the last century, we have made tremendous progress in eliminating discrimination and providing opportunities we could not envision at the beginning of the 20th Century. The hallmark of that progress and the evidence of our maturity as a nation certainly is the election of our first African-American president.

Yet, we only have to walk down from the Hilltop to our neighborhood schools to understand how little our children, the next generation, know about our history. Otherwise, why would little Black boys say that “education is a White thing” when we, as a people, have struggled so gallantly to gain an education over the last 150 years. We study and learn about Black history just as we do the history of the Constitution, the history of the South or any other academic discipline. We cannot understand American history unless we understand African-American history.
—John E. Fleming, Ph.D., national president, The Association for the Study of African American Life and History

Black History Month should be celebrated because our story continues to be written. With the election of our first African-American president, Barack Obama, the history books should get our story right this time. Black History Month should be lived, not just celebrated, and it should be lived each and every day.
—Lenda P. Hill

If there is ever a time for us to celebrate Black History Month, it is now. We came in ships, bundled as sardines and now we are on top of the world with the first African-American president sitting in the highest position in the whole world. The world did not celebrate our parents as they rotted in the ships, nor as they suffered in the sugar cane plants, nor did they comfort our forefathers left behind in Africa to go down to their graves mourning the loss of their beloved children. Africa and Africans have cried a long time; it is our turn to laugh and yes, we will laugh, even as we continue to celebrate ourselves in Black History Month. Our history is not complete yet and it is very premature to close the chapter of celebration right now. The best is yet to come. Long live Africa, long live Africans in America!
—Ruth Owopetu, Assistant Director For Technical Services

“…It is evident from the numerous calls for orators during Negro History Week as a short period for demonstrating what the students have learned in their study of the Negro during the whole school year.”   Carter G. Woodson, published in the Negro History Bulletin, March 1950

These are Carter Godwin Woodson’s own words about how African Americans by the year 1950 had already lost sight of the purpose of Negro History Week. Should we continue to celebrate Black History Month as we have for so many years? In short no. In keeping with Woodson’s original purpose, African Americans need to dedicate time each day to learning history, expand beyond the normal time frame of what Nikilh Pal Singh calls the long civil rights movement to ancient Africa and perhaps delve into our family histories, thereby doing ourselves a favor and expanding our cultural and historical frame of reference. Come next February we will have something to celebrate all month long.
—Jaminnia States, Junior

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