Is Black History Month still necessary? Having stood in front of a classroom of college students (Black and white) where several were surprised that Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. were not contemporaries; living in a nation that completely ignores J.A. Rogers’ revelation of the five (legally) Black presidents who preceded Barack Obama; having seen the self-proclaimed “HNIC” and leading academic contender of the Post-Racialist Society theory, Dr. Henry Louis Gates being led from his home in handcuffs by police responding to a possible break-in; and with a nation that still refuses to outright acknowledge the African American roots of it’s “homegrown culture”; let’s ponder that question.
It was 84 years ago that Dr. Carter G. Woodson introduced “Negro Appreciation Week” which was eventually embraced nationally and by the late 1960’s grew into Black History Month.
As a performing artist and arts educator, my phone would start to ring heavily in November with bookings from schools wanting me to come be black for them during February. I remember one principal in particular being devastated about my lack of availability for BHM until I pointed out that March and April were wide open and I assured her that I was “just as Black and charming the other 9 months of the school year.”
Those of us born during the Black Power era (mid 1960’s to mid 1970’s) to socially progressive Black parents, came to recognize that:
Learning about Black people in American history was relegated to the shortest month of the year.
Black History Month would be the only time for students to be briefed on the contributions of a select few Black people related to events learned about during the rest of the year. For example, learning about the building of Washington DC in October, but not learning about Benjamin Banneker until February.
There was a considerable focus on the era of slavery (I figured it was a way for my teachers to reminisce about the good old days), then jumping 100 years into the Civil Rights era when Martin Luther King showed white southerners the error of their ways (because northerns were not racisr) and brought about the end of racism in America.
Then, after February 28/ 29 we’d return to our regularly scheduled programming.
It is of little wonder that by the late 1980’s, the college campus activity of many Black students closely resembled that of their fore-bearers from the 1960’s with a revisited outcry of “Black History: More Than A Month!!!” This movement soon merged with the multicultural curriculum movement, calling for an over-all inclusion of the history and contributions of all ethno-cultural groups acculturated into western civilization.
The banner of multiculturalism was quickly co-opted by ‘main-stream’ educators and soon multiculturalism became an excuse to avoid addressing the historic elements of race relations; including the presence of a racially based caste system; the social, political and economic marginalization of people of color; and the fact that African Americans (as opposed to Africans and the other cultures of the African Diaspora) remain the pariahs of society.
It appears that since the reconstruction period of the 19th Century, the mission of American society seems to be one of erasing the African American experience from it’s records and consciouness as a means of further covering up the hypocrisy of equality and freedom in American society. Meanwhile, organizations like the NAACP busy themselves with the all important task of deciding what Negro/ Black/ African American people should call themselves.
Traditionally, rapid growth and progress are considered elements of the great American success story: celebrating the individual or small group of people who, start a tiny business that quickly grows into a major corporation, is an integral element of the American Dream. This is true until you get to the social, political and/or economic growth of Black Americans; then it’s a matter of “patience” and “all deliberate speed.” Until American society is ready to truly explore, value and acknowledge all aspects of it’s history; the answer to the question, "Is Black History Month still necessary?" remains a resounding YES!
MWALIM *7) is a Performing Artist, Writer, Filmmaker. You can see more of his work at
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