On the first of February, my family and I celebrated the Chinese New Year with one of our favorite cuisines—Chinese food. Within the Chinese culture, some say that on this day, you are supposed to eat something green for good fortune because green is the color of money. We chose a delicious stir-fried green bean chicken dish as our way of celebrating the Chinese holiday and tradition.
The month of February is also Black History Month. Did you know that Black History Month is not just celebrated in the United States but also in Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom?
From the earliest days of the African presence in the United States, Black people have contributed to the fiber of American culture. Yet, little of Black achievements have been taught in schools.
I remember several years ago, a well-educated colleague of mine came into my office. It was the month of February, so I had several prominent African Americans’ pictures scrolling across my computer screen as my screen saver. He watched their faces as we talked, and finally, he asked, “Are those all your family members?”
I had to laugh because the pictures he was looking at were of Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Martin Luther King Jr. One would have thought he would have at least recognized Mr. King as not a relative of mine.
So how is it that I was taught who every president and vice president were, as well as famous military personnel and inventors, and he couldn’t even identify one prominent Black figure?
The reason is that no one had ever taught him about these influential figures. For years, our educational system’s teaching of Black History has been systemically omitting Black Americans’ great achievements in the national narrative.
To combat this egregious omission, during the summer of 1915, a man named Carter G. Woodson and his friends participated in a national celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation. This event grew bigger over the years and was beginning to be duplicated by many others to teach students and young people about Black and African-Americans’ contributions to American History.
Many years later, the month of February was chosen as Black History Month because it encompassed the birthdays of two great Americans who played a prominent role in shaping black history—namely, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, whose birthdays are the 12th and the 14th of February. Both men played a significant role in helping to end slavery. Yet, today, sadly, very few people, outside of people of color, even know who Mr. Douglass was.
Today, Black History Month is an opportunity to understand Black history, going beyond stories of racism and slavery. The month is a chance to celebrate Black achievements, provide a fresh reminder of stories largely forgotten, and give visibility to the people and organizations creating change. The importance of history is also the very reason I wrote the book, Come to The Oaks, the story of a runaway slave and the underground railroad. To this day, I still receive many lovely emails from readers who share with me how much they have learned about early American history as it relates to slavery.
So, this February, instead of wondering why we need a specific month for Black History, maybe the question should be, “Why isn’t this information still not being taught year-round in schools?”