THE SIGNIFICANCE OF BLACK HISTORY MONTH
African American History Month, also known as Black History Month, is an annual, month-long observance of significant figures and events in the history of the African American community in the United States.
Black History Month has been officially recognized by the government of the United States, as well as other countries such as Canada, and the United Kingdom. In the United States, it is celebrated every February; it is celebrated in the United Kingdom and some other countries in October.
According to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, before Black History Month was created, a similar remembrance celebration was first created in 1926 called “Negro History Week.” The idea came from historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and took place during the second week of February that year. The week was specifically chosen because both former President Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’s birthdays took place during the week. The initial idea for the week was to have students learn specifically about the history of African Americans. In 1926, it was only celebrated in a few cities and states. However, by 1929, the week was celebrated in most states where there was a significant African American population. In the decades to come, “Negro History Week” become increasingly popular around the country and was even considered a holiday by some.
Black History Month is credited to a group of black students and teachers at Kent State University in Ohio, in February 1969. The first Black History Month was held the following year at the university and actually lasted for two months, from the beginning of January to the end of February. Within six years, Black History Month was officially recognized by then President Gerald Ford. It was celebrated at colleges and universities across the country. The civil rights movement during the 1950 and 1960s also helped the movement gain further national attention.
2020 was a year full of many hardships and pain, particularly for the African American community; on May 25 the world watched video footage of a police officer as he knelt on George Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes and murdered him in the street, with two other officers helping restrain him and a fourth officer preventing anyone in the crowd from intervening. The officers did nothing despite the fact Floyd told them that he could not breath and did not try to provide him any treatment after Emergency Medical Services had to be called.
The media reported that on March 13, 2020, multiple police officers killed Breonna Taylor in her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky. Despite their claims that they had announced themselves before knocking down the door after knocking on it, her boyfriend said he did not hear them. When the officers entered her apartment, Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, thinking they were intruders, fired a warning shot. In response, the officers fired multiple shots, and Taylor died of a gunshot wound after being struck several times. Though this took place over two months before the death of George Floyd, it gained wider attention during the public’s response to Floyd’s death in the summer of 2020.
On August 23, after months-long worldwide protesting for change, Jacob Blake was badly injured after being shot in the back seven times by police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Prior to being shot, he had been tasered by the police officers. During this incident, he was in a car with three of his sons.
The murders of George Floyd and many others that took place before him sparked worldwide outrage, which lead to protests directly associated with the Black Live Matter Movement fighting for social justice. The news of the murder of Breonna Taylor and the shooting of Jacob Blake only furthered the outcries for finding resolutions to the social injustices that are caused by systemic racism. Many politicians, celebrities, and other public figures have been directly involved in the movement or supported it; while this has helped impower the growing calls for policy changes, there has still not been enough support in Washington to make large-scale changes at the national level.
After a year full of tragedies for the African American community, this 2021’s Black History Month feels much needed. The usual educational and celebratory events that take place will likely look different because of the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic; it remains important to use this month the way it was always intended to, for education.
Eastern New Mexico University presents events each year to educate and celebrate the history and culture of the African American community. This year’s celebration has been moved completely online to accommodate the majority of students who are not attending in-person classes. All events will take place on Zoom, and many of them can be preregistered for by going to the African American Affairs page on the ENMU student portal, or by using a web search engine and finding the page there. Some of the event this year include an acrobatic performance, a town hall meeting, a theatre performance, and a comedienne’s performance.