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Black History Month

Black History Month - Background

Thanks to the pioneering work of Dr. Carter G. Woodson and the organization he founded, the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH), “information on the contributions of persons of African descent to our nation and world is currently taught in universities and in many K-12 schools. Black History is featured in television documentaries and in local and national museums. It is conveyed through literature, the visual arts, and music. The great lives and material culture of Black History can be seen in national park sites and in the preservation of historic homes, buildings, and even cemeteries.  Black History Month is not a token. It is a special tribute—a time of acknowledgement, of reflection, and inspiration—that comes to life in real and ongoing activities throughout the year, just as the work of ASALH has for 106 years steadily asserted both racial pride and the centrality of race and the black experience to the American narrative and heritage.” 

Black History Month (BHM) was officially established in 1986, however it’s foundation can be traced back to 1915, when Woodson participated in an exhibit highlighting the progress of African Americans since the destruction of slavery.  Seeing the large crowd that attended the event inspired Woodson to form an organization to promote the scientific study of black life and history, and establish a tradition of promoting achievements to serve as inspiration to the community to continue advancing civilization.

Woodson and the Association set a theme for the annual celebration, and provided content that included, pictures, lessons, plays, and posters of important dates and people. In the 1940s, slow efforts began to expand sharing of content and the accompanying celebrations of black history to the general public. By the 1960s the shift began to the establishment of the month-long celebration that takes place today.  

From: https://asalh.org/about-us/about-black-history-month/

2023 Theme – Black Resistance

“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”― Zora Neale Hurston

 

Explore the tabs in the box below to read excerpts from ASALH's "Black Resistance Executive Summary (2023)".

Excerpts from ASALH's "Black Resistance Executive Summary (2023)"

  • African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms, and police killings since our arrival upon these shores. These efforts have been to advocate for a dignified self-determined life in a just democratic society in the United States and beyond the United States political jurisdiction.
  • The 1950s and 1970s in the United States was defined by actions such as sit-ins, boycotts, walk outs, strikes by Black people and white allies in the fight for justice against discrimination in all sectors of society from employment to education to housing. Black people have had to consistently push the United States to live up to its ideals of freedom, liberty, and justice for all.
  • Black people have sought ways to nurture and protect Black lives, and for autonomy of their physical and intellectual bodies through armed resistance, voluntary emigration, nonviolence, education, literature, sports, media, and legislation/politics. Black led institutions and affiliations have lobbied, litigated, legislated, protested, and achieved success. 
  • Cultural centers such as libraries including George Cleveland Hall Library (Chicago, IL), Dart Hall (Charleston, SC) and social, literary, and cultural clubs, such as Jack and Jill, Phillis Wheatley Literary Societies, fraternal and sororal orders, associations (i.e. Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, National Association of Colored Women, etc.) worked to support the intellectual development of communities to collect and preserve Black stories, sponsor Black history and literature events, and were active in the quest for civil, social, and human rights.
  • Black medical professionals worked with others to establish nursing schools, hospitals, and clinics in order to provide spaces for Black people to get quality health care, which they often did (and do not) receive at mainstream medical institutions.
  • Education, whether in elementary, secondary, or higher education institutions have been seen as a way for Black people and communities to resist the narrative that Black people are intellectually inferior. When Carter G. Woodson founded Negro History Week (NHW) in 1926, he saw it as a way to provide a space and resources to critically educate students about their history. 
  • African American spirituals, gospel, folk music, hip-hop, and rap have been used to express struggle, hope, and for solidarity in the face of racial oppression. Music has been used to illustrate societal issues including white and state sanctioned violence (i.e. Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit), sexual politics (i.e. Salt-N-Pepa’s Let's Talk About Sex), as motivation, for strength against harassment, and to experience freedom. The Black artists, writers, photographers, and musicians who participated in the Black Arts Movement, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Chicago Black Renaissance were the soundtrack and the visual representation of resistance movements. These individuals created art that supported the resistance movements, but also provided a space for Black people to express love and joy. Creatives used poetry, fiction, short stories, plays, films, and television to counter stereotypes and to imagine a present and future with Black people in it.
  • Sports are a world pastime, and it both brings people together and separates them. Black athletes have used sports as a way to advocate for social issues and for political agendas. 
  • Historically and today in the 21st century, Black people have worked the political angle to seek their rightful space in the country. Where race is concerned, legislative or judicial action to deal with controversial issues has often come late. The historic Executive Orders 8802 and 9346 were responses to A. Phillip Randolph and the all-Black March on Washington Movement's threat to lead a 50,000-strong Black worker's march into Washington, D.C. And all three of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act were concessions to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Every advance, improvement in our quality of life and access to the levers of power to determine our destiny has been achieved through struggle.
  • John Lewis advised, "Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble."
  • Nearly 179 years ago, the Rev. Henry Highland Garnett proposed that the only path to freedom, justice, and equality; self-determination; and/or social transformation is resistance. In thunder tones, Garnett shouted, "Let your motto be resistance! resistance! RESISTANCE!
  • By resisting Black people have achieved triumphs, successes, and progress as seen in the end of chattel slavery, dismantling of Jim and Jane Crow segregation in the South, increased political representation at all levels of government, desegregation of educational institutions, the passage of Civil Rights Act of 1964, the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History in DC and increased and diverse representation of Black experiences in media. Black resistance strategies have served as a model for every other social movement in the country, thus, the legacy and importance of these actions cannot be understated.
  • As societal and political forces escalate to limit access to and exercise of the ballot, eliminate the teaching of Black history, and work to push us back into the 1890s, we can only rely on our capacity to resist.
  • This is a call to everyone, inside and outside the academy, to study the history of Black Americans’ responses to establish safe spaces, where Black life can be sustained, fortified, and respected.

Resilience

This year's theme of Black Resistance provides powerful examples of the resiliency of African Americans to successfully forge forward, despite having to overcome and find ways to work around chronic and constant barriers.  We can all learn from this history, and we can also learn from each other.  The articles below discuss resiliency in BIPOC communities, and provide perspectives to reflect upon how this can impact our own journey. 

Video on Barriers