by Michael Imhotep host “The African History Network Show”
Updated Saturday, Feb. 17th, 2023, 6:14AM EST, Published Wed., Feb. 3rd, 2016, 2:40PM EST
It’s another February and another “Black History Month” which is now officially known as African American History Month (AAHM). You will see specials on TV, see events in your communities and see articles online and in social media celebrating African American History Month. You will also no doubt hear the debate about whether we should have an African American History Month or not. Many people will reference the 2006 interview that Mike Wallace did with actor Morgan Freeman where he famously said, “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black History is American History”. He asked Mike Wallace “you’re going to relegate my history to a month”.
In Jan. 2016, right wing political commentator Stacey Dash appeared on Fox News where she made some very uninformed, disparaging comments about Black History Month. What the people who say “we shouldn’t have an African American History Month”, usually don’t talk about is the history of the monthly celebration, what the original intent was and they will almost never mention Dr. Carter G. Woodson who is known as The Father of Black History Month. I wonder why? Arsenio Hall would probably say, “things that make you go hmmm”.
The 2023 Annual Theme for ‘Black History Month’ is ‘Black Resistance’. There has been Annual Theme which comes from The Association for the Study of African American Life & History since 1928. This is the organization that Dr. Carter G. Woodson co-founded on Sept. 9th, 1915.
African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms (an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group), and police killings since our arrival upon these shores. These efforts have been to advocate for a dignified self-determined life in a just democratic society in the United States and beyond the United States political jurisdiction. The 1950s and 1970s in the United States was defined by actions such as sit-ins, boycotts, walk outs, strikes by Black people and white allies in the fight for justice against discrimination in all sectors of society from employment to education to housing.
In an effort to live, and maintain and protect economic success Black people have organized/planned violent insurrections against those who enslaved them, such as in Haiti, and armed themselves against murderous white mobs as seen in Memphis, TN (1892), Rosewood, FL (1923), and New Orleans, LA (1900). Additionally, some Black people thought that the best way to resist was to self-liberate as seen by the actions those who left the plantation system, of Henry Adams and Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, when they led a mass exodus westward in 1879 and Bishop Henry McNeal Turner of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, who organized emigration to Liberia.
The first thing that we have to understand right from the beginning is that contrary to popular belief, African people are the Original People of North, Central and South America and came to the territory we call The United States of America at least 51,700 years ago. Yes, that is not a typo. At least 51,700 years ago. Many of us have been taught that Africans first came to this territory, August 20th, 1619 when an English Pirate ship called the White Lion, brought 20 some odd Africans to Point Comfort in Virginia. That did happen but there were already Africans in this land. There were articles in 2019 written about this because of the 400 year anniversary of 1619. This was also talked about a little bit in the “1619 Project” from The New York Times.
Two articles that I reference on my radio show and lectures that deals with the year 1526 when the Spanish were taking Africans into the area we today call South Carolina are, “America’s History of Slavery Began Long Before Jamestown” from History.com which is The History Channel’s website and “Before 1619 there was 1526: The mystery of the first enslaved Africans in what became the United States” from The Washington Post. Read my article “Understanding The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade What They Didn’t Teach you In School” for more information.
Along the Savannah River in Allendale County, South Carolina, University of South Carolina archaeologist Dr. Albert Goodyear discovered overwhelming evidence of an African presence because of artifacts that were found that date back at least 50,000 years ago. Dr. David Imhotep author of the ground breaking book “The First Americans Were Africans Documented Evidence” deals with Dr. Albert Goodyear’s findings in his book and much more. It’s also important to note that the term African American wasn’t created in 1989 by Rev. Jesse Jackson. The earliest known usage of “African American” was in 1782 in Philadelphia. This was revealed in the article, “The term ‘African-American’ appears earlier than thought” from The New York Times in April 2015. For more information on this subject please read my article “Whoopi Goldberg & Raven Symone Show Their Ignorance Declaring They are Americans NOT ‘African Americans’: They Don’t Know That African People Were The First Americans”.
We also know that on April 3rd, 1964 when Malcolm X gave his speech “The Ballot or The Bullet” in Cleveland, OH he used the term “African American”. Read pg. 36 of “Malcolm X Speaks” by George Breitman
Who Was Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson?
What we today call African American History Month started in 1926 as Negro History Week created by Dr. Carter G. Woodson. He is known as “The Father of Black History Month” and “The Father of Black History”. He is credited with laying the foundation for the widespread adoption of Black Studies in American Colleges. He was also a co-founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life & History (ASNLH) today known as The Association For the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). He was a scholar, historian, author, book publisher, college professor, educator and lecturer. Isn’t it ironic that his most well known book is “The Mis-Education of The Negro” in 1933 and people who criticize (AAHM) are ignorant of who he was. To understand African American History Month we must first understand Dr. Carter G. Woodson.
Dr. Woodson was born on Dec. 19th, 1875 in New Canton, Buckingham County, VA and died April 3rd, 1950, in Washington, DC. He was born to James Woodson and Anna Eliza (Riddle) Woodson who were former Slaves in Virginia. Dr. Woodson was born 10 years after Slavery ended. He worked on their farm and later worked in coal mines in West Virginia to support his family. He did not go to formal school until he was 20 years old and was largely self taught until then. His mother was literate and taught him at home. He also went to a one room school house for 4 months out of the year. His family moved to West Virginia where, at the age of 20, Woodson enrolled in Frederick Douglass High School and completed four years of course work in two years and graduated in 1896. He was a very smart student.
He then enrolls in Berea College in Kentucky and graduates in 1903 with a B.A. in Literature. He will then go on to travel to Manila, Philippines and becomes the General Superintendent of Education for Manila for the U.S. Bureau of Insular Affairs. He taught English, Health & Agriculture. In 1907 he travels to Asia, North Africa and Europe. He will return to the States in 1907 and enroll at the University of Chicago and graduates with another B.A. in 1907 and a Masters of Arts in 1908. For some reason they would not accept his B.A. from Berea College so he had to get a B.A. all over again which he did in 1 year.
He will go on to teach at a high school in Washington D.C. from 1909-1919 and earns a Phd in American History from Harvard University in 1912. He becomes the 2nd African American to earn a Phd. from Harvard (the 1st was Dr. W.E.B. DuBois in 1895) and the 1st of Slave Ancestry because Dr. DuBois was born to free parents.
The founding of The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History
In 1915 there were celebrations because this was the 50th Anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment and the end of Chattel Slavery in 1865. Dr. Woodson attends a 3 week celebration sponsored by the State of Illinois commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Slaves being freed. There were exhibits that showed the progress that African Americans had made since the 13th Amendment of 1865. It’s at this 3 week celebration that Dr. Woodson got the idea to create an organization dedicated to promoting the scientific study of African American life and history before he left town. On Sept. 9th, 1915 he met with 4 friends at the Wabash YMCA in Chicago and formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). The co-founders were Dr. George C. Hall, James E. Stamps, William B. Hartgrave and Alexander L. Jackson.
The Gale Encyclopedia Contemporary Black Biography for Dr. Carter G. Woodson said:
The association was the first historical society devoted exclusively to research on the black American. It was established to encourage scholarly achievement, to sponsor research projects, and to collect and preserve records documenting the black past. At a time when few blacks were invited to participate in historical conferences, the annual meeting of the association offered black scholars an opportunity to present research papers before their peers. Even more importantly, the association began publication in 1916 of a scientific quarterly, the Journal of Negro History.
In 1926 Dr. Woodson creates “Negro History Week” because as a historian and an educator he understood that our children did not know their history and many of their parents did not either. (Unfortunately, that is still largely the case today.) This was in spite of the great work that Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) did to teach our people their history in the 1920s. This was also during a period of time when The Harlem Renaissance was at its peak and their was an interest in African American History and a new sense of racial pride. We can see this with African American men returning to the U.S. after WWI ends in 1918 and the creation of the “New Negro” and “Race Men”.
Dr. Woodson chose the 2nd week in February to celebrate Negro History Week because it contains the birth dates of 2 people he felt were important in African American History, Frederick Douglass who’s adopted birthday was Feb. 14th and President Abraham Lincoln, Feb. 12th. Even more importantly he chose the 2nd week in February because of celebrations that were already taking place during that time.
“Since Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, the Black community, along with other Republicans, had been celebrating the fallen President’s birthday. And since the late 1890s, Black communities across the country had been celebrating Douglass’. Well aware of the pre-existing celebrations, Woodson built Negro History Week around traditional days of commemorating the black past. He was asking the public to extend their study of black history, not to create a new tradition. In doing so, he increased his chances for success.”
Dr. Woodson’s lifelong conviction was that a knowledge of history can significantly change society. By informing the American people of the achievements of African Americans in the United States and Africa, he hoped not only to build self-esteem among Blacks, but to lessen prejudice among whites.
Dr. Pero Gaglo Dagbovie, History Prof. at Michigan State University, in his book “Carter G. Woodson in Washingtion, D.C. The Father of Black History” pg. 100-102 said:
Woodson founded Negro History Week in 1926. He explained the reason behind the celebration in a pamphlet “widely distributed” months before the first celebration was to talk place during the second week in February 1926, in commemoration of Fredrick Douglass’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays. He exclaimed that Blacks knew “practically nothing” about their history. He ultimately believed that African Americans could benefit immensely from knowledge of their past and accomplishments of their Ancestors. He added that race prejudice was the byproduct of Whites’ beliefs that Black people had not contributed anything of worth to world civilization. He argued that if the historical record was set straight and that if the history of Black people were studied along with the achievements of others in schools, not only would Black youth develop a sense of pride and self-worth, but Racism would also be abolished. Woodson concluded: “Let truth destroy the dividing prejudice of nationality and teach universal love without distinction of race, merit or rank. With sublime enthusiasm and heavenly vision of the Great Teacher let us help men rise above the race hate of their age unto the altruism of a rejuvenated universe.”
Negro History Week was the first major achievement in popularizing Black History and was unique in that it focused on the Black youth. Woodson realized that the mis-education of Black people began in their homes, communities and elementary schools. Woodson’s vision of Negro History Week was optimistic, strategic and long term. He wanted this modest, week long celebration to serve as a steppingstone toward the gradual introduction of Black History into the curricula of all levels of the U.S. educational system. He hoped that Negro History Week would evolve into “Negro History Year,” as he affirmed from time to time. Woodson consistently instructed those observing the week that they needed to diligently prepare for the celebration months in advance and that after mid-February, they needed to continue acknowledging the role of African descendants in world history. “Negro History Week should be a demonstration of what has been done in the study of the Negro during the year and at the same time as a demonstration of greater things to be accomplished,” Woodson instructed school teachers. “A subject which receives attention one week out of the thirty-six will not mean much to anyone.”
What is important to note is that Negro History Week was NEVER designed to be the only time that we studied our history or the only time it should be taught in school. He felt that the week long celebration should be a time that school children show what they knew about the history they had been studying all year long. It was also a time for reflection on our history and what had been accomplished in the U.S. by African Americans and on the continent of Africa. One of the misconceptions of African American History Month is that it is supposed to deal with history from 1619 to present which is why each year people bring out the same 15-20 sanitized Negros to celebrate because they are are non-threatening to Europeans.
Many people don’t know that each year ASALH creates a theme for African American History Month and provides some type of resources for teachers and parents. When we look at some of the early themes of Negro History Week now called African American History Month we see that there was also a connection to African History.
1928 – Civilization: A World Achievement
1933 – Ethiopia Meets Error in Truth
1935 – The Negro Achievements in Africa
1936 – African Background Outlined
1960 – Strengthening America Through Education in Negro History and African Culture
1971 – African Civilization and Culture: A Worthy Historical Background
2019 – Black Migrations
African History and the accomplishments of African people were originally part of this cultural celebration. Unfortunately today, many people who teach our children in school and those who have African American History Month celebrations don’t know this and they just focus on history from 1619 to present. This has to STOP.
In 1976 during the 50th Anniversary of Negro History Week we expanded it to a monthly celebration and renamed it Black History Month. This was also during the bicentennial year celebration of the U.S. and President Gerald Ford did an addresses recognizing “Black History Month” as a national celebration and encouraging Americans to celebrate it. It was also officially recognized by the US. Government as a national celebration.
What is very interesting is that most of the naysayers who are against African American History Month such as Stacey Dash, Morgan Freeman and many European Americans or White people don’t know that many other ethnic groups have their own monthly cultural celebrations. Mike Wallace didn’t know this when he interviewed Morgan Freeman in 2006.
When you study the history of the various monthly cultural celebrations you will see that they were all started either in 1976 or afterwards. Other ethnic groups saw our cultural celebration and they wanted one also. They will embrace theirs but many African Americans who suffer from ignorance and self hatred will run away from what we created.
Dr. Woodson hoped for a day when the history and contributions of African Americans and African people would be incorporated into the school curriculum year round so there wouldn’t be a need for African American History Month. I don’t think he would have known it would have grown like it has and other ethnic groups would develop monthly cultural celebrations also.
The theme for 2020 from ASALH is “African Americans and The Vote”
The year 2020 marks the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment and the culmination of the women’s suffrage movement. The year 2020 also marks the sesquicentennial of the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) and the right of Black men to the ballot after the Civil War. The theme speaks, therefore, to the ongoing struggle on the part of both Black men and Black women for the right to vote. This theme has a rich and long history, which begins at the turn of the nineteenth century, i.e., in the era of the Early Republic, with the states’ passage of laws that democratized the vote for white men while disfranchising free Black men. Thus, even before the Civil War, Black men petitioned their legislatures and the US Congress, seeking to be recognized as voters. Tensions between abolitionists and women’s suffragists first surfaced in the aftermath of the Civil War, while Black disfranchisement laws in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries undermined the guarantees in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments for the great majority of southern blacks until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The important contribution of Black suffragists occurred not only within the larger women’s movement, but within the larger Black voting rights movement. Through voting-rights campaigns and legal suits from the turn of the twentieth century to the mid-1960s, African Americans made their voices heard as to the importance of the vote. Indeed the fight for Black voting rights continues in the courts today. The theme of the vote should also include the rise of Black elected and appointed officials at the local and national levels, campaigns for equal rights legislation, as well as the role of Blacks in traditional and alternative political parties.
Hopefully this article has helped to clear up some of the misinformation regarding African American History Month, who created it and why. Remember, it was never designed to be the only time of the year we study, teach or learn about our history. We should repackage this monthly celebrate and transform it into “African History Month” so that the totality of African History is celebrated.
Happy African American History Month!!!
Here is an excerpt of my presentation “Should African Americans Celebrate Black History Month: Exposing The Myths”. For more information dealing with African History, African American, podcasts of my show and DVD presentations from Michael Imhotep please visit www.AfricanHistoryNetwork.com.
Additional Resources Sources:
Visit www.TheAfricanHistoryNetwork.com for more information, to Register for Online History Courses and to order Lectures by Michael Imhotep.
Michael Imhotep is a historian, radio show host, researcher, lecturer, writer, and founder of The African History Network. He is the host of “The African History Network Show” on 910 AM Superstation WFDF Detroit, Sundays 9pm-11pm EST. Visit his website www.TheAfricanHistoryNetwork.com for more information about his lectures, DVDs, our history and podcasts of the show.
He is a weekly panelist on ‘Roland Martin Unfiltered’ and ‘The Culture’ with Farajii Muhammad providing historical and political analysis.
You can follow him on Twitter @TheAHNShow and his Facebook FanPage, “The African History Network”. He is available for interviews and lectures. He is a strong advocate of African Americans reclaiming their history, culture and controlling the economics, education and politics in our community. He is featured in documentaries, “Black Friday” which deals with African Americans controlling our $1.3 Trillion economy and creating generational wealth. Visit www.TheAfricanHistoryNetwork.com for more information.