Black History Month begun by Black History in
United States of America (USA) over one Hundred years ago in February 1915 in
Chicago, Illinois, subsequently observed by the United Kingdom (UK) in October
1987, Canada in February 1995, and in Ireland in October 2010.
Black History Month is a significant
celebration to recognise historical injustices, promote equality for the
protection of People of Africa descent, and foster the recognition of the contributions
people of Africa have made in our societies and to raise awareness of these
contributions, and to celebrate the rich culture and heritages of the black and
people of Africa.
In 2014, the inaugural national observation
saw the official launch of Black History Month Ireland on Thursday 04 October
at the European Commission Representation Office Dublin in Ireland. Throughout
that October, in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford counties, lectures,
performance events, business workshops, bazaar, film festival and a visual arts
exhibition were showcased.
In 2015, our BHMI Theme is “A Century of
Celebration: Catch the Life, History and Culture”, focusing on unearthing
lesser-known connections between Ireland, the Irish and the African Diaspora,
particularly in anticipation of the Easter Rising centenary celebration.
Africa-Irish Development Initiative (AIDI) is the official
registered organisers of Black History Month Ireland (BHMI), also known as
Africa History Month Ireland (AHMI). AIDI) is the platform for the official
launch of the Black History Month in Ireland just like the Association
for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH)in USA, and in collaboration with the African Diplomatic Corps in
Ireland, The European Commission Representation and European Parliament Offices
Dublin 2 respectively with the Dean of the African Diplomatic Corps, Ambassador
Anas Khalas of Morocco Embassy in Ireland, and Barbara Nolan Head of the
European Representation Office in Dublin as Keynote Speakers. Ireland is now
recognized as the fourth country in the world to officially hold the black
history month observance.
Ireland becomes fourth country in world to
celebrate Black History Month (thejournal.ie)
Zephrynus Okechi Ikeh (Zeph), Founder and Project Coordinator of Black History Month Ireland (BHMI), said that the initiative will tackle racism and
discrimination through helping people understand different cultures, advocating
for racial equality and civil rights.
The tale of Black History Month begins in Chicago Illinois (IL) during
the summer of 1915. Carter G. Woodson, an alumnus of the University of Chicago
with many of his friends in the city, traveled from Washington, D.C. to
participate in a national celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of
emancipation of slave trade sponsored by the state of Illinois. Thousands of
African Americans travelled from across the country to see exhibits
highlighting the progress their people had made since the destruction of
Awarded a doctorate in Harvard three years earlier, Woodson joined
the other exhibitors with a black history display. Despite being held at the
Coliseum, the site of the 1912 Republican convention, an overflow crowd of six
to twelve thousand waited outside for their turn to view the exhibits. Inspired
by the three-week celebration, Woodson decided to form an organization to
promote the scientific study of black life and history before leaving town. On
September 9th, Woodson met at the Wabash YMCA with A. L. Jackson and three
others and formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History
Carter G. Woodson hoped that others would popularize the findings
that he and other black intellectuals would publish in The Journal of Negro
History, which he established in 1916. As early as 1920, Woodson urged black
civic organizations to promote the achievements that researchers were
uncovering. A graduate member of Omega Psi Phi, he urged his fraternity
brothers to take up the work. In 1924, they responded with the creation of
Negro History and Literature Week, which they renamed Negro Achievement Week.
Their outreach was significant, but Woodson desired greater impact. As he told
an audience of Hampton Institute students, “We are going back to that beautiful
history and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements.” In 1925, he
decided that the Association had to shoulder the responsibility. Going forward
it would both create and popularize knowledge about the black past. He sent out
a press release announcing Negro History Week in February, 1926.
Woodson chose February for reasons of tradition and reform. It is
commonly said that Woodson selected February to encompass the birthdays of two
great Americans who played a prominent role in shaping black history, namely
Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, whose birthdays are the 12th and the
14th, respectively. More importantly, he chose them for reasons of tradition.
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.
At this stage, it seemed Woodson was up to something more than
building on tradition. Without saying so, he aimed to reform it from the study
of two great men to a great race. Though he admired both men, Woodson had never
been fond of the celebrations held in their honor. He railed against the
“ignorant spellbinders” who addressed large, convivial gatherings and displayed
their lack of knowledge about the men and their contributions to history. More
importantly, Woodson believed that history was made by the people, not simply
or primarily by great men. He envisioned the study and celebration of the Negro
as a race, not simply as the producers of a great man. And Lincoln, however
great, had not freed the slaves—the Union Army, including hundreds of thousands
of black soldiers and sailors, had done that. Rather than focusing on two men,
the black community, he believed, should focus on the countless black men and
women who had contributed to the advance of human civilization.
From the beginning, Woodson was overwhelmed by the response to his
call. Negro History Week appeared across the country in schools and before the
public. The 1920s was the decade of the New Negro, a name given to the Post-War
I generation because of its rising racial pride and consciousness. Urbanization
and industrialization had brought over a million African Americans from the
rural South into big cities of the nation. The expanding black middle class
became participants in and consumers of black literature and culture. Black
history clubs sprang up, teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils,
and progressive whites stepped and endorsed the efforts.
Woodson and the Association scrambled to meet the demand. They set
a theme for the annual celebration, and provided study materials—pictures,
lessons for teachers, plays for historical performances, and posters of
important dates and people. Provisioned with a steady flow of knowledge, high
schools in progressive communities formed Negro History Clubs. To serve the
desire of history buffs to participate in the re-education of black folks and
the nation, ASNLH formed branches that stretched from coast to coast. In 1937,
at the urging of Mary McLeod Bethune, Woodson established the Negro History
Bulletin, which focused on the annual theme. As black populations grew, mayors
issued Negro History Week proclamations, and in cities like Syracuse
progressive whites joined Negro History Week with National Brotherhood Week.
Like most ideas that resonate with the spirit of the times, Negro
History Week proved to be more dynamic than Woodson or the Association could
control. By the 1930s, Woodson complained about the intellectual charlatans,
black and white, popping up everywhere seeking to take advantage of the public
interest in black history, and he warned teachers not to invite speakers who
had less knowledge than the students themselves. Increasingly publishing houses
that had previously ignored black topics and authors rushed to put books on the
market and in the schools. Instant experts appeared everywhere, and
non-scholarly works appeared from “mushroom presses.”
In America, nothing popular escapes either commercialization or
eventual trivialization, and so Woodson, the constant reformer, had his hands
full in promoting celebrations worthy of the people who had made the history.
Well before his death in 1950, Woodson believed that the weekly
celebrations not the study or celebration of black history would eventually
come to an end. In fact, Woodson never viewed black history as a one-week
affair. He pressed for schools to use Negro History Week to demonstrate what
students learned all year. In the same vein, he established a black studies
extension program to reach adults throughout the year. It was in this sense
that blacks would learn of their past on a daily basis that he looked forward
to the time when an annual celebration would no longer be necessary.
Generations before Morgan Freeman and other advocates of all-year
commemorations, Woodson believed that black history was too important to
America and the world to be crammed into a limited time frame. He spoke of a
shift from Negro History Week to Negro History Year.
In the 1940s, efforts began slowly within the black community to
expand the study of black history in the schools and black history celebrations
before the public. In the South, black teachers often taught Negro History as a
supplement to United States history. One early beneficiary of the movement
reported that his teacher would hide Woodson’s textbook beneath his desk to
avoid drawing the wrath of the principal. During the Civil Rights Movement in
the South, the Freedom Schools incorporated black history into the curriculum
to advance social change. The Negro History movement was an intellectual
insurgency that was part of every larger effort to transform race relations.
The 1960s had a dramatic effect on the study and celebration of
black history. Before the decade was over, Negro History Week would be well on
its way to becoming Black History Month. The shift to a month-long celebration
began even before Dr. Woodson death. As early as 1940s, blacks in West
Virginia, a state where Woodson often spoke, began to celebrate February as
Negro History Month. In Chicago, a now forgotten cultural activist, Fredrick H.
Hammaurabi, started celebrating Negro History Month in the mid-1960s. Having
taken an African name in the 1930s, Hammaurabi used his cultural center, the
House of Knowledge, to fuse African consciousness with the study of the black
past. By the late 1960s, as young blacks on college campuses became
increasingly conscious of links with Africa, Black History Month replaced Negro
History Week at a quickening pace. Within the Association, younger
intellectuals, part of the awakening, prodded Woodson’s organization to change
with the times. They succeeded. In 1976, fifty years after the first
celebration, the Association used its influence to institutionalise the shifts
from a week to a month and from Negro history to black history. Since the
mid-1970s, every American president, Democrat and Republican, has issued
proclamations endorsing the Association’s annual theme.
What Carter G. Woodson would say about the continued celebrations
is unknown, but he would smile on all honest efforts to make black history a
field of serious study and provide the public with thoughtful celebrations.