By Cynthia Tucker

The Noble Origins Of ‘Black History Month’ Are Now Outdated

February 16, 2013 12:00 am Category: Memo Pad 5 Comments A+ / A-
The Noble Origins Of ‘Black History Month’ Are Now Outdated

Eighty-seven years ago — when about half of households owned an automobile, women’s suffrage was new and black Americans were still terrorized by lynching, especially in the South — black historian Carter G. Woodson had a simple but powerful idea: Designate a week to celebrate the contributions that black Americans had made to their country. Woodson chose the second week of February to commemorate the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Negro History Week, as it was known, was an important development for its time. Back then, official history barely acknowledged the presence of black Americans, while popular culture actively diminished their humanity. In such a hostile landscape, black Americans desperately needed an acknowledgement of their patriotism, enterprise and ingenuity to foster self-confidence. Knowledge is power.

Decades later, the landscape has changed in such profound ways that Woodson would hardly recognize it. Automobiles are ubiquitous; women voters usually outnumber men in national elections; and a coalition that included unmarried women and black, Latino and Asian-American voters powered the nation’s first black president to re-election last year.

Despite those tectonic, ground-shaking developments, Woodson’s commemoration — now Black History Month — lingers. Yet it is an artifact that, ironically, works to minimize the myriad ways in which black Americans’ accomplishments are part of the national mosaic. In the age of Obama, do we need such a separate and unequal celebration?

Consider: Twenty years from now, will classroom discussions of President Obama be restricted to February? Or does the first black president belong to the broader pantheon of presidents, his legacy discussed alongside those of others? Will a future Barack Obama Presidential Library be a site of commemorations only during the shortest month of the year?

If it is absurd to imagine confining Obama to Black History Month, then it ought to be apparent that it is equally nonsensical to promote the study of Crispus Attucks, Elijah McCoy, Sojourner Truth, Charles Drew, Dorie Miller and the Tuskegee Airmen for only 28 days. The inventions, the patriotism, the industry and the adventurousness of black Americans — soldiers, cowboys, pioneers, engineers — are part and parcel of American history, not some footnote.

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The Noble Origins Of ‘Black History Month’ Are Now Outdated Reviewed by on . Eighty-seven years ago -- when about half of households owned an automobile, women's suffrage was new and black Americans were still terrorized by lynching, esp Eighty-seven years ago -- when about half of households owned an automobile, women's suffrage was new and black Americans were still terrorized by lynching, esp Rating:

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  • daniel bostdorf

    I fundemenatly disagree with Ms. Tucker. “Black History Month” is NOT and outdated idea.
    The writer an essayist George Aleander states it best:
    “While celebrating Black History Month certainly will not erase bigotry in our society, it remains one of the all-important cornerstones to continuing any meaningful discussion of race relations in our society. Any conversation around race must be examined in a historical context and with a breath of knowledge of the histories and struggles of all Americans…….then Senator Obama broached this subject in his speech on race in Philadelphia in the heat of the Democratic primary race following a media fest surrounding sermons of his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright…….Yet the lack of respect for African American history is not the whole issue. It is a component of a larger American crisis. Americans seem to be suffering an overall ignorance of history in general. A recent study by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute found that only 21% of Americans who took a recent test on their country’s history, government and economics, knew that the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” comes from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Only 24% of college graduates knew that the main issue of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates was the expansion of slavery into new territories. What’s most shocking is that the study found that nearly one-third of our elected officials did not know that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence. And overall, Americans flunked the test with an average score of 49%……..In a society where pop culture sits on the highest throne, we as citizens owe it to ourselves to study African American history not only during Black History Month, but to make studying American history in its most comprehensive form of utmost importance throughout the year. The two are not mutually exclusive. Our educational, cultural and civic institutions must make the incorporation of the histories of all Americans — from the Native to the newest immigrant — a perennial priority. This concept must cease to be a discourse in multiculturalism that tends to become easily marginalized as alternative — the outsider’s story. These stories must be viewed collectively as our story. The American story. Then and only then can we authentically be the United States of America. “

  • tobyspeeks

    By this logic, presidents are minimized because we have only one day for them. Same goes for God because there are only 52 days in the mainstream that are holy days. And they’re not even marked on the calendar as such. Our flag must be a non sequitur, because only one day is set aside for it. And on and on and on….

    I agree with daniel bostdorf too.

  • sigrid28

    In the Middle Ages, there were 180 holidays every year, most of them attached to the church calendar. To this day, in many countries that were Catholic in origin, people celebrate not only their birthdays but their saints days.

    On many calendars in France, for example, each day is also a saints day, and some calendars on the coasts of France give the times of high and low tides as well as noting phases of the moon. In many villages and towns, these calendars are sold by volunteer firemen who go door-to-door, at dinnertime, collecting generous donations in return for this offering of useful wall art for a year, usually featuring pictures of the firemen themselves training in their gear. The people of France, a largely secular country, eagerly support this sentimental blend of local heroes, folklore, and religious customs, which have been observed for as long as two thousand years. No French kitchen is complete without such a calendar.

    Thinking of Black History Month from this perspective–the long view with a glance toward immortality–we should welcome Cynthia Tucker’s questions alongside customs that have grown up over two hundred fifty years around the unique calendar of the United States. As a former teacher, I applaud the growing number of representative Americans we celebrate each month, turning each day into a window into the American experience.

  • daniel bostdorf

    350 years of enslavement of Africans and their subsequent rising up against oppressors to the 20 century civil rights movement requires this “black history month.”

    For tens of thousands of years….’It’s been nothing but other “peoples of color” history.

    Significant contributions have been made by Africans who happen to be dragged here to live … THIS MUST BE acknowledge by a SEPARATE celebration….from the dominant culture that oppressed them ….because that racist environment has simply excluded them.

    White history is VERY MUCH understood.

    Ask the Native Americans who’s land was stolen from them by white colonists…

    By the way—have you noticed that this Ms. Tuckers column has been abruptly moved from home page? Replaced now by her February 6th article?

    “Gun Owners Supporting Sensible Reform Must Speak Out
    February 9th, 2013 12:00 am Cynthia Tucker”

    Mr. Conson: what is the purpose of this?

    • daniel bostdorf

      The article has now reappeared as Ms. Tuckers most recent contribution.

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