Humanity’s struggle with racism is an ongoing issue. The elimination of slavery has been a huge step in the direction of a more civilized world. However, it didn’t put an end to racial discrimination, nor did it guarantee the equal rights that were promised. You may know that prejudice is what moves any current-day racist approach. The Black History Month is one reminder of how it used to be and how far we have come on our thousand-mile road to a happier more balanced community.
Along the years, good righteous people across the planet have tried to eradicate racism, calling for a peaceful more humane environment. They advocate for tolerance, acceptance, and love. They plead the common humanity of the world, that we are all but one, that our little differences are but a biological diversity. Today, we have a lot to be proud of and a lot more to work even harder to change.
|SEE ALSO: The Social Disease of Bigotry|
What Is Black History Month?
Black History Month is an annual celebration of the important figures, events, and achievements in black history. It is held in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. It takes place in February in the US and Canada, and in October in the UK. The month is a means of remembrance of the daily struggles the people of African origin had to go through. It also serves as a medium of education, enlightening the populations of black history and its inspirational stories.
The Story Behind Black History Month
So, when is Black History Month? According to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History website, the story goes back to 1915. A historian named Carter G. Woodson had traveled to Chicago to attend the 15th anniversary of the emancipation. Thousands of African Americans traveled from across the country to see exhibits highlighting the progress their people achieved in the past years. Woodson then, inspired by the celebration, decided to form an organization that scientifically studies the history and life of the black people. Accompanied with another 4 supporters, Woodson established the Association for the Study of the Negro Life and History.
Woodson believed that the achievements of black researchers should be promoted. He and the association then, in 1926, sent a press release announcing Negro History Week, in February. On that, he said, “We are going back to that beautiful history and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements.” The second week of February was assigned a celebration of black history people and their accomplishments.
Why is Black History Month In February? This particular week of February was chosen because the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were, respectively, on the 12th and 14th of the month. The two birthdays were traditionally celebrated by the black community for the prominent roles Lincoln and Douglass played in shaping black history. “The Negro History Week” was Woodson’s way of extending the celebration to cover more than the commemoration of the two deceased Americans. Woodson believed that despite the efforts of Lincoln and Douglass, the Union Army was what freed the slaves. The hundreds of thousands of black men and women deserved the memorization just as well. He believed their contributions should be the focus of the black community’s pride.
Before Woodson’s death, individuals started a month-long celebration of black history. Gradually but quickly, Black History Month then completely replaced Negro History Week.
On the other hand, Black History Month is held in October in the UK for the following reasons:
- October is the beginning of the academic year, and thus the celebration would “instill pride and identity in young black learners.”
- In the African culture, October is a month of tolerance and reconciliation. Choosing this particular month for a celebration establishes a connection between the present day English black community and their African roots.
- The period between August to November is regarded the “Black Heritage Season” in the UK.
Black History Month is definitely interesting, but so is African culture. Let us introduce a concept related to the African culture that you would find useful for any further reading.
African Diaspora: The Suffering of the Slaves
According to Merriam Webster, diaspora means a group of people who end up living away from the area in which they were born or lived before, or in which their ancestors lived. African diaspora refers to the communities of African origin that were unwillingly moved to the Americas, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, as a part of the slave trade. The African Union defines it as “[…] people of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union”. The African diaspora has its own literature. It usually comprises themes of racism, slavery, home-sickness, oppression, and longing. They share a collective memory of the homeland and the way too similar experiences with discrimination and violence.
Now that you know what is Black History Month and why and when it is celebrated, you must be curious about the kind of activities held in its occasion.
Black History Month Activities
Black History Month is an opportunity to dive into the rich history of the black community. Here are a few Black History Month activities that you can try on your own for next February!
- Learn about the people who made a difference and sacrificed their lives to turn the table and build a new world. Check their biographies and the movies based on their lives.
- Trace the timelines of the first events that featured a black person’s contribution: the first black actor, the first black astronaut, the first black president, and more.
- Explore the history and traditions of Africa.
- Learn about the black community’s contribution to music. Read the history of Jazz, Blues, and Rap music.
- Study the development of the black community’s appearance in movies and on TV. Try to analyze if the portrayal of a black person is true to life or is stereotypically bad.
- Be up to date with the black community’s issues. Learn about the contemporary anti-racism movements and the population statistics in this concern.
- Finally, and for a fun evening activity, try the quizzes and crosswords here to test your knowledge on the subject.
Black History Month Activities for Schools
If you are a teacher and would like to indulge your students’ interest in black history facts and figures, try integrating a few black culture and history lessons into your curriculum. Here are a few more activities you can try in class!
- Visit the Romare Bearden Foundation’s Children’s Bibliography.
- Have your students read works of famous black authors and then reenact their favorite scenes or have full interviews with the characters.
- Have your students dress up as heroic black history people and encourage them to do a little presentation impersonating their chosen figure.
- Watch a movie with your class where black history is depicted. Ask your students to write a simple poem about what they saw.
- Explain the conditions of slavery in the past centuries and have your students write short stories of slave escape and survival.
- Take your students on a field trip to a black history museum (e.g., Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia).
- If there is no museum nearby, have your students bring their favorite pictures of black history figures, events, battles, and successes and have your own museum!
- Make a black history facts board where each of your students adds a fact or a story they found on their own.
Find more interesting activities to try with your students or children here.
Black History Facts and Stories
Black history can enrich our knowledge and broaden our horizons. It teaches us the values of resistance, freedom, and chivalry. Buckle up and let us take a journey in time!
The following are a few stories of black struggle and battles against slavery and discrimination.
Vesey was a skilled carpenter and slave in the late 18th century. When he won the lottery, he purchased his freedom. He had a successful life and business, but couldn’t free his wife and children from slavery. Years later, Vesey, with the help of others, founded the AME Church, which later attracted more than 1800 members, making it quite worrying for the city officials. They planned a slave revolt in 1822. Vesey and his friends planned to kill all the slaveholders in his hometown, free the slaves, and sail to Haiti to ask for refuge. Words of the upcoming uprising flew in the air and Vesey and his supporters were caught. No white man was killed in the process. Despite the nonexistence of any casualties, Vesey and 5 others were quickly condemned guilty and were then hanged. 35 men in total were executed, besides the others who were deported.
The 1822 failed uprising is depicted in many works of art. Try reading “Great Gittin’ Up Mornin’” by John Oliver Killens or “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd for plots based on Vesey’s life.
La Amistad was a Spanish slave ship that moved African captives to Cuba to be sold there for slavery. In 1839, the ship carried 53 Mende captives, 49 of which are adults and the rest children. A man named Sengbe Pieh (also known as Joseph Cinqué) led a revolt against the ship’s crew. They killed the captain and the whole crew and took control of the ship, leaving only the navigator to take the ship back home. The navigator, a man named Don Pedro Montez, took the opportunity and deceived them, sailing the ship to New York instead. The ship was then taken into the American custody.
The American court was then meant to decide if the Mende captives were the property of the Cuban buyers, the officers who took custody of the ship, or the queen of Spain. They couldn’t decide if they were the property of anyone, since the UK and the US had prohibited international slave trade by the time. The case was known as “United States vs. The Amistad case”. It reached the US Supreme Court, which ruled that captives were illegally transported and enslaved, and were to be freed. In 1842, 35 survivors of La Amistad managed to return home to Africa.
Check Steven Spielberg’s portrayal of the incidents in his movie Amistad.
“There was a buffalo soldier in the heart of America,
Stolen from Africa, brought to America,
Fighting on arrival, fighting for survival.”
You must have recognized Bob Marley’s famous song, “Buffalo Soldier,” but you might not be familiar with what the title means. Buffalo soldiers was a nickname given to the “Negro Cavalry” by the Native Americans they fought against. The “Negro Cavalry” was the US 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army. The “buffalo soldiers” nickname was eventually used to refer to all African American regiments in 1866. The buffalo soldiers were black men that fought with dignity, honor, and valor in a field that was dominated by the white man, in a war they gained nothing from.
So what is Black History Month again? It’s a nudge on humanity’s conscience, an annual alarm clock that reminds the world that it was once unnecessarily brutal to great people. It’s a call for peace, equality, and unity. It is a reason to look around at what is still wrong. It is an urge to be better, to not stop here, to appreciate freedom, and to fight for our right of an accepting welcoming homeland. Take the chance to celebrate the next Black History Month with children, family, and neighbors, and make sure the month-long celebration doesn’t pass you by without paying tribute to the beautiful tremendous land of Africa and its fearless sons.