EDITORIAL: Black History Month needs to broaden

by | Feb 10, 2017 | Editorial, Opinion

By ETC Staff

This February, institutions, communities, and nations are celebrating Black History Month. Performances, exhibits and lessons are offered in support of black heritage. However, how broad an understanding of African-heritage culture and contribution is gained from these commemorations? It’s tough to say.

According to the American National Biography, Black History Month, originally Negro History Week, was established by Carter G. Woodson, an African-American historian and the founder of the Association for Study of Negro Life and History. Woodson began the celebration in 1926 on the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass, renowned former slave who became an anti-slavery activist, and Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. president who brought about emancipation from slavery. Woodson began Negro History Week to increase awareness of black history and the figure who contributed to the society, but were omitted or given little significance in most accounts of U.S. history.

It can be mutually agreed that Dr. Martin Luther King, Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman, to name a few, are well-known key figures who fought for the civil rights movement down south. At least, well known to most Americans other than President Trump, who recently made mistaken reference to Douglass, who died in 1895, as if currently alive.

Every February these names are seen and heard in a ceremony or other reference paying tribute to them. But what of the many others? While the most prominent names are thoroughly covered, it’s time to shine light on those who aren’t acknowledged.

Does it take a movie to bring important people into limelight? The film Hidden Figures was able to showcase the struggles of three black women (Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson) who were brilliant minds that worked in NASA. The movie portrayed racism and the oppression of women during the 60s at its finest.

That still leaves the other 99 per cent of African-heritage contributors who aren’t given the recognition they deserve for all the work they have done to better individual lives and society as a whole.

Even putting aside a number of eminent African-Canadians who should be cited in our country during this month, there are African-Americans that typically go unrecognized even in the United States for their contributions:

Robert Smalls was a sea captain, ship’s pilot and politician during the American Civil War. He freed the slaves aboard the Confederate transport ship on May 13, 1862. His bravery helped persuade Lincoln to accept African-American soldiers into the Union Army.

Charles Drew was a surgeon and researcher. He spearheaded the idea of storing blood plasma for transfusion, and invented the concept of blood banks during the Second World War.

Garret Morgan started as a sewing-machine mechanic. He invented one of the first traffic lights after witnessing a collision between an automobile and a horse-drawn carriage. Morgan invented a respiratory device that was later used as a blueprint for emergency care in the First World War.

This month, have a novel experience with black history. Go online and discover key African-American and African-Canadian figures who contributed to our societies, and get involved in a Black History event – no matter what your race.