In 1915, Dr. Carter G. Woodson established the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. It was a way to highlight the contributions of African Americans, and to set the record straight that African Americans remained at the heart of the American story. He also wanted to make African American history accessible for all Americans. The teaching of African American history did not happen in a vacuum, but instead, it took nearly a hundred years to come to fruition. In 1926, America began to celebrate Negro History Week in the month of February as a way to commemorate the life and contributions of African Americans. The month of February was selected because it was the birth month of Fredrick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. These two legendary men played a crucial role in history with respect to their influence on Black life and culture.
However, in the 1960s with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement coupled with the Black Power Movement and the unrelenting quest for civil rights, African Americans begin to expand Negro History Week into a month long celebration, and lobbied the powers- that-be in 1976 to expand Negro History Week into Black History Month. As a result of this push to inculcate Black history into the rubric of American history, most schools across the United States adopted African American history to be included in their school's curriculum. Interestingly enough, in post racial America, there are still a number of institutions out there that unequivocally refuse to include Black History as a part of their curriculum.
The fact of the matter is -- Black history is American history. The African American impact on history is far-reaching and is deeply etched in the social fabric of America. We cannot talk about American history without talking about African American history. These two stories are intrinsically intertwined. African Americans have made significant contributions to every field of the human endeavor, including science, technology, engineering, mathematics, theology, arts, literature, athletics, politics, and especially to the American economy. In every facet of the American experience lies the story of African Americans. Hence, since the inception of this country, with the exception of perhaps the First Nation peoples, African- Americans fertilized and impregnated the soil with the drippings of their blood, sweat, and tears.
The African American experience is nestled in struggle and liberation. It is undergirded by multiple forms of oppression and degradation. It is a story of how we survived the horrors of slavery, the domestic terror and violence of the Ku Klux Klan, the ferocity of Jim Crow Sr., and the lingering residue of Jim Crow Jr. in the 21st century. But in the midst of that suffering, we see a linage and heritage of perseverance, fortitude, and a dogged -determination to reject as false the notion that African Americans are at the bottom rung of American society.
Though the month of February is set aside to celebrate Black history by remembering the lives of our forebearers who relentlessly sacrificed their lives as martyrs for liberation and advancement of the Black community, we must not forget that every day in America Black history is being made. African- Americans have struggled through decades of injustice, and still carry on in that legacy today; yet with persistent resolve and unwavering grit, we continue to shatter the glass ceiling. We must not be confined to a month in telling our stories, but our stories must be told each and every day. As a wise man once said to me, "If you don't know your history, you don't know your past. If you don't know your past, you don't know your present, and if you don't know your present, you don't know your future."
Therefore, I challenge my brothers and sisters of the African diaspora to continue to make your indelible imprints on society. The blood of the martyrs is screaming from the ground, and is challenging us to not let their legacy be in vain. We must tell our stories from the boardroom to the courtroom; and from the outhouse to the White House. That we are at the heart of the American story, and without our story, there is no authentic American story.