A Memorable Black History Month
What’s making Black History Month memorable this year is that the Smithsonian Institution’s board of regents announced on Jan. 30 that the planned National Museum of African American History and Culture will be built on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. A national museum commemorating Black history offers what some critics say is missing from Black History Month, which is an ongoing and institutionalized presence of and engagement with African-American history.
I believe the National Museum project goes a long way towards achieving the vision that Dr. Carter G. Woodson had when he launched Negro History Week in 1926. Like contemporary critics who want year-round recognition of African-American history, I don’t think Dr. Woodson, were he alive today, would be satisfied with the way Negro History Week has transitioned into Black History Month. He would want the kind of recognition and celebration that a National Museum of African American History and Culture could accommodate.
But speaking of year-round recognition, there are those who totally embrace Black History Month and there are those who embrace it, but feel a little uncomfortable that we dedicate one month a year recognizing and talking about the contributions of African-Americans. And then, of course, there are those who just flat out don’t like it.
But the cover story is focused more on the second school of thought. Some scholars believe Black History Month is a good thing, but think it needs to be tweaked a bit. As you’ll read in assistant editor Crystal Keels’ “Celebration or Placebo,” there are scholars who refuse speaking engagements during Black History Month because of feelings of exploitation.
Where do you stand on the issue? I understand how some people feel about relegating Black history to one month. I, too, get a little annoyed when TV programming changes “in honor” of Black History Month, like they couldn’t air similar programs the other 11 months of the year. But if it came down to keeping Black History Month or losing it altogether, I’m in the keeping-it camp. I find it endearing that campuses from East to West, North to South, small to large, all have some Black history programming during the month of February, regardless of whether the university has a 5 percent Black student enrollment or 50 percent.
During my college days, I found that Black History Month brought the campus community together to attend various events. And even if people went their separate ways once March rolled around, we hoped they learned something about Black history and culture that maybe they didn’t already know. It is fascinating, however, that Black History Month is so entrenched into American culture that essentially all public institutions, from schools to museums to libraries to zoos! (as you’ll read in Crystal’s piece) get in on the month-long celebration.
As we go to press with this edition, the world mourns the loss of Coretta Scott King. In attendance at her funeral in Lithonia, Ga., were four U.S. presidents sitting among an overwhelmingly African-American audience in a mega-church that seats 10,000 people. How times have changed. One journalist pointed out during the coverage that in 1968 not one U.S. president attended the funeral of Mrs. King’s husband, civil rights activist the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. That seems hard to believe knowing how much he’s revered and admired today, but it’s also a testament to the much different racial climate in which we now live.
Hilary Hurd Anyaso
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