If you catch yourself peering through a history textbook, you will undoubtedly find stories of the modern African American. From the days when Gone With the Wind was a reality to when an African American woman sat down courageously at the front of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, the trials, experiences and joys of African American life have dissolved into the modern mind, and are appreciated more and more each year.
“Black History Month is a time of year that acknowledges the contributions of people of African descent in U.S. and Black Diaspora,” said Dr. Austin Jackson, assistant professor in African American and African Studies.
“Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the second African-American to receive a Ph.D. in Harvard University, first established it,” said Jackson. “What started first as Negro History Week in 1926, evolved into Black History Month today. It’s celebrated in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and other parts of the world.”
Black History Month has become a major topic of discussion for students young and old.
“I’ve been learning about Black History Month since elementary school,” said Kaylee Storey, a psychology and religious studies senior. “Every year, when it comes along, I think that it is a good reminder for things we should appreciate on a regular basis.”
Each year, Storey finds Black History Month as a commemorative and insightful time.
“Black History Month is so important,” said Storey. “Because of it, we have the chance to raise awareness of our past and find a way to be proactive for even more change in the future.”
The importance of Black History Month is often debated. Controversy has sparked between many members in and out of the African American community. Notably, Morgan Freeman, famed Academy Award winning actor, once professed that he did not want a Black History Month, rather that black history is American history.
Jackson debated the importance of the month with his students.
“Most of the students in the class are white,” said Jackson. “As they discussed The Autobiography of Malcolm X, students said that Black History Month was imperative, since the textbooks they read in school either excluded or misrepresented the Civil Rights Movement, American chattel slavery, while at the same time affirming a wide range of racist stereotypes about black people.”
Kyler Wilkins, a computer engineering senior, agreed with the importance of the month long remembrance.
“Black History Month is a time of reflection for me and my life as an African American,” said Wilkins. “While I never have experienced day to day oppression, segregation, and blatant mistreatment, my parents have and my grandparents even more so. It’s so strange to think that if I were born a generation earlier the way I am now I’d have a completely different life in terms of how the whole world viewed me.”
Because Black History Month proves to be necessary for many people, it is a way to remember the past for guidance and look to the future for hope.
“Black History Month is imperative, on multiple levels,” said Jackson. “It is a moral and ethical responsibility, to make sure that children — both my own and those I’ve been privileged to teach — receive a comprehensive and inclusive understanding of history. This means making sure that they understand the rich and remarkable history of people of African descent in the Americas and beyond.”
With a bright light shining in the future, Black History Month still stands as a beacon of remembrance—a symbol of American history that is essential for all to recognize.
“The fact is,” said Wilkins, “we need to set aside a time of reflection each year to remember where we were, where we are, and therefore how far we’ve come. The next step is to look at where we’re going to go and how we can help bring everyone to the same level of awareness and respect.”