A Brief History of Black History Month
February has come upon us once more which means that it is Black History Month, which happens to occur during the shortest month of the year of all things. As Canadians, our history is often whitewashed and scrubbed clean of all notions of enslaved peoples. Many of us have been led to believe that Canada was a paragon who did not have enslaved peoples nor enslavers. Once again, I must be the bearer of bad news as research has shown that our country did indeed host enslaved peoples. During this month, we must remember and acknowledge the more unsavory parts of our country’s past. But, then again how did Black History Month come to be?
Black History Month is rooted in its predecessor which was created in 1926. At the time, American historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History declared the second week of the month of February would be Negro History Week. They specifically chose the second week of this month as it coincided with Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12th and Frederick Douglass’ birthday on February 20th. Both dates were celebrated together by black communities since the 19th century. By the 1930s, Negro History Week countered the rising myth of the South’s “lost cause”, which claimed that enslaved peoples were treated well and that they were better off enslaved. Throughout the decades, Woodson’s creation grew in popularity throughout the country with mayors adopting it in their cities.
Black History Month was initially proposed by black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University in February of 1969. It was then first formally celebrated the following year at Kent State, from January 2nd to February 28th, 1970. It became popularized among numerous institutions when President Gerald Ford formally recognized Black History Month during the country’s bicentennial in 1976.
Canada only officially recognized Black History Month after a motion by politician Jean Augustine. In 2008, the Senate officially recognized it after it was brought forward by Senator Donald Oliver, a motion that was unanimously approved.
Black history should not only be regarded during the month of February, but throughout the entire year. We cannot dwell in the past nor look to the future without acknowledging the present. Black lives matter and they always will. If you believe that the latter is political, I must plead that you check yourself. Lives are not political and never will be.