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February is Black History Month. Here’s All You Need to Know

Written by Vedika Pathania, a second-year journalism student

Black History Month was established to bring attention to African Americans’ achievements in the United States. It pays tribute to all Black people in the United States, from the earliest enslaved individuals carried over from Africa in the early 17th century to today’s African Americans…

By I Kid You Not , in Ages 12 - 18 Explained World News , at February 5, 2022 Tags: , ,

Written by Vedika Pathania, a second-year journalism student

Every year in February, the United States honours and celebrates the contributions and sacrifices of thousands of African Americans who have helped to shape the nation’s rich culture, legacy, achievements, and tribulations that are a part of history.

Since the 1970s, when many celebrations of African American history and achievements were proclaimed around the country, February has been honoured as ‘Black History Month’ in the United States.

So why weren’t these contributions not recognised before the 1970s?

To understand this, we need to understand another core concept- racism.

According to the dictionary, racism means prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism by an individual, community, or institution against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.

In simple terms, it means discrimination against a person, or group of people because of their caste, race and ethnicity.

It is important to understand racism because it forms a core part of American history and the struggle for equality in general. So here is a quick history lesson for you.

In the 17th century, when Britain was expanding its empire and had colonised America, they boosted their economy through cotton, sugar, rice and indigo plantations. Since the majority of the population was white, along came white supremacy. It started something known as the ‘slave trade’ which eventually came to be known as the ‘Trans-Atlantic slave trade.’ This slave trade involved the inhumane transportation of enslaved Africans to the Americas to work on these plantations.

They were severely ill-treated, discriminated against and lived in horrifying conditions. It was decades before the African-American people in the United States were given basic human rights and even to this date, racism continues. Their fight for equality is a completely different story.

So, who started Black History Month?

Carter G. Woodson co-founded the ‘Association for the Study of Negro Life and History’ in 1915 in response to a lack of knowledge on Black people’s achievements available to the general public. The organisation designated the second week of February as “Negro History Week” in 1926 to honour African Americans’ contributions to American history. This week was chosen because it coincides with the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist, and former US president Abraham Lincoln. 

An abolitionist was someone who wanted to end slavery.

In 1976, President Gerald Ford extended this week-long celebration to the whole of February.

What does this month honour?

Black History Month was established to bring attention to African Americans’ achievements in the United States. It pays tribute to all Black people in the United States, from the earliest enslaved individuals carried over from Africa in the early 17th century to today’s African Americans.

Among the notable figures who are honoured are-

Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who fought for equal rights in the 1950s and 1960s (and is also known for his famous speech ‘I Have a Dream’); Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American justice to ever be appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States; Mae Jemison, the first female African-American astronaut to travel to space in 1992; and Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States in 2008.

Are there any other countries that celebrate this month?

Since the inaugural week in 1926, other nations, including Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands, have joined the United States in honouring Black people and their contributions to history and culture.

Today, Black History Month continues the conversation about African Americans and their accomplishments through events such as museum exhibitions and film screenings, as well as encouraging the year-round study of African American achievements. It is a month about equality, respect and honouring those who helped create the United States.

Important note- Though used in the article because of historical use, the words ‘negro’ and ‘Black’ aren’t used to refer to the African-American population any longer. They are offensive terms and usage is not encouraged at all. We simply call the ethnicity as ‘African-Americans’.

Key Points Summary

  • Every year in February, the United States honours and celebrates the contributions and sacrifices of thousands of African Americans
  • Racism means discrimination against a person, or group of people because of their caste, race and ethnicity.
  • Trans-Atlantic slave trade involved the inhumane transportation of enslaved Africans to the Americas to work on plantations
  • It was decades before the African-American people in the United States were given basic human rights
  • Carter G. Woodson co-founded the ‘Association for the Study of Negro Life and History’ in 1915
  • The organisation designated the second week of February as “Negro History Week” in 1926
  • This week was chosen because it coincides with the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass and former US president Abraham Lincoln. 
  • In 1976, President Gerald Ford extended this week-long celebration to the whole of February
  • Black History Month was established to bring attention to African Americans’ achievements in the United States
  • Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Thurgood Marshall, Mae Jemison and Barack Obama are some of the notable figures
  • It is a month about equality, respect and honouring those who helped create the United States.

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