Of the 12 months on our calendar, February appears to be the month with several observances or events. Isn’t it ironic that the shortest month, with 28 days — 29 in a leap year — would have such a plethora of events? Presidents Day is recognized with the celebration of our first president, George Washington, known as the father of our country. Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, is noted for his issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves, and, notably, the Gettysburg Address. In this month, Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist, was elected president of the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company. Morehouse College, a historically black institution of higher learning, was organized in Augusta, Ga., and now located in Atlanta. Valentine’s Day also occurs in February. These events have become an integral part of our American history.
Of all the celebrated events in February, there is one that is so important that it consumes the entire month — Black History Month. From my research when I was in junior high school in Alabama, I learned that the observance of Negro History Week was inaugurated by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926. With the efforts of the Black United Students at Kent State University in Ohio, the celebration was changed to Black History Month in February 1970. As part of the United States Bicentennial celebration, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976.
Dr. Woodson noted that there was an omission of the contributions of Black America’s development and history in the textbooks he was using. Upon this observation, he initiated and encouraged the study of black history in black or “colored” schools for one week in February. As I participated in this activity as a class assignment given by my teachers each year, I recall quarrels I had with my brother about pictures and articles that could only be found in such black publications as Jet Magazine, Ebony Magazine and the Pittsburgh Courier. Everyone in the school had to compile a collection of pictures and articles for Black History Week. We also found bits and pieces of information in some encyclopedias. This reflected a lack of emphasis on the significant contributions of black Americans in textbooks.
Today, the observance has increased to a month’s celebration. As an educator, I am delighted that the schools, churches, television, radio and print media have deemed the history of the black man’s contributions to our nation and the world important enough to give a special focus. Special recognition and gratitude is extended to our public and private schools that feel it is not robbery to teach all and every student in our classrooms about the contributions of all citizens.
As books are printed and information gleaned from the World Wide Web, we see an ever-increasing amount of history about the contribution of blacks.
Although I applaud the institutions participating in this effort to increase the awareness of the contributions of blacks to our society, black history should be a constant study throughout the year, just as there is a continuous desire to learn the history of all the peoples of the world.
Dr. Charles W. Bonds is a former Bulloch County school board member and retired Georgia Southern University professor.