By Sybil Bettis Mack
February is Black History Month, and perhaps now more than ever it is important for Christians to step forward and observe it. As a nation, we’ve experienced turbulent years recently and no one has been left untouched by the reality or effects of the times. Black History Month offers us an opportunity to reflect and search out our better angels. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
The history of the African diaspora is a way of remembering important people and events during Black History Month. All Americans should share in the history and the struggle for freedom and equal rights. Yet, most Americans do not care or understand how Black History Month began, nor how February was chosen as the month for the honor. Its roots were deeply sown in the rich soil of the American public school system. Human rights for all equated to the same desire for black children to have access to the history of important black men and women who contributed to shaping the African American experience in this nation. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)
Dr. Carter G. Woodson a native of New Canton, Virginia, worked as a sharecropper and miner to help support his large family. He entered high school late, but graduated in less than two years. After attending Berea College in Kentucky, Woodson worked in the Philippines as an education superintendent for the U. S. government. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Chicago before entering Harvard. He became the second African American (after W.E.B. DuBois) to earn a doctorate from that Institution.
Many roadblocks were removed by historian Carter G. Woodson who placed an emphasis on encouraging the coordinated teaching of the history of black Americans in the nation’s public schools. After repeated attempts to celebrate just one week in America about Black history, in 1926 Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASALH) announced that the second week of February would be designated as "Negro History Week.” This week was chosen because it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and of Frederick Douglass on February 14. Both were special dates black communities had celebrated since the late 19th century. At the launch of Negro History Week, Woodson contended that the teaching of black history was essential to ensure the physical and intellectual survival of the race. He wrote:
“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. The American Indian left no continuous record. He did not appreciate the value of tradition; and where is he today? The Hebrew keenly appreciated the value of tradition, as is attested by the Bible itself. In spite of worldwide persecution, therefore, he is a great factor in our civilization.” [Woodson, “Negro History Week,” p. 239]
Negro History Week grew in popularity throughout the following decades as schools and other organizations across the country quickly embraced Woodson’s initiative. The demand from public schools for course materials and other resources was a struggle for the ASNLH, so it formed branches all over the country. In 1969, the Black United Students organization at Kent State University proposed that Black History be celebrated on a monthly basis in the United States and in 1970 President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month and urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history. “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.”” (Proverbs 22:6)
No road for a desired end is never a straight line or without some mechanical troubles. Regrettably, the highways and byways that Black Americans have had to travel have always been bumpy, filled with steep curves, produced flat tires, and some batteries have had to be jumped. Often traffic lights showed red repeatedly without any prospects for a bright green light. But God! Black educators believed in the future of black children and sought agreement that the public education included black history in its curriculums. "For the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory." (Deuteronomy 20:4)