Feb 2, 2023

The History of Black History Month Transcript

The History of Black History Month Transcript
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It’s February, and many teachers and schools are taking time to celebrate Black History Month. Michael Hines talks about the beginnings and evolution of Black History Month. Read the transcript here.

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Michael Hines (00:00):

It’s February, so many teachers in schools are celebrating Black History Month, but there are still many misconceptions and misunderstandings about the past, present, and future of this celebration. So today I thought we’d go back to the beginning.

Hi, this is Mike Hines and I’m a professor here at the Stanford Graduate School of Education where my work focuses on the history of America’s schools. What we now know as Black History Month had its beginnings as Negro History Week, which was invented by the famed historian, educator, and activist Carter G. Woodson in 1926. Negro History Week was a direct challenge to traditional curricula of the time period, which often degraded and dehumanized Black people. Negro History Week was also inextricably linked to Black calls for social and political equality. More than just a chance to talk about a few notable achievements, Negro History Week was a call to action.

Although Negro History Week became one of his most widely known interventions, it was only part of Dr. Woodson’s efforts to develop, democratize, and disseminate information on Black history. He also pursued this work through the establishment of the Association for Negro Life in history, its journals, the journal of Negro History, and the Negro History Bulletin and textbooks, speeches, pamphlets, and materials for every grade level from college down to kindergarten.

Now, Woodson didn’t do this work alone. Moving from idea to reality took the dedication of thousands of Black teachers, most of them women, who were largely responsible for shaping the celebration through their work in the classroom but also took the work of entire communities, including churches, fraternities, and sororities, libraries and lodges, social clubs, and civic organizations. This reflected Woodson’s desire to encourage laypeople, not just academics, to preserve and present their own histories. As the movement continued to grow, it outstrip the bounds of a single week, and the word Negro, which was outdated by the 1960s, was replaced by a new generation, born and raised in the civil rights struggle. Black History Month emerged in its current form during those decades and is still going strong.

So is this celebration still relevant today? Well, it depends on who you ask. Critics charge that the progress we’ve made from the 1920s to the 2020s has largely made Black History Month irrelevant, or that worse, singling out Black history is actually counterproductive to broader efforts at inclusion. Although we may have made progress however, research from the Southern Poverty Law Center and other sources still shows that we are far from our goal of honoring the multiple voices in our classrooms and challenging dominant narratives. At the same time, new and emerging movements for racial justice call out for historical context, which our schools simply fail to provide.

Carter G. Woodson himself was cautiously optimistic that students in the future would no longer need Black History Month if we taught in ways that honored and elevated our students and told their stories all year long. But we’re not there yet, so Black History Month will continue to be what it always has been, a celebration, a stinging indictment, and a call to action all in one.

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