It took the movie “Hidden Figures” for most of us to learn that Black women got our country’s first astronauts into space. In school, many of us did not learn about Lewis Latimer’s groundbreaking contribution to the electric lightbulb design, or Marsha P. Johnson’s activism for LGBT rights.
Too often in our nation’s history, the great accomplishments of Black Americans have been buried or gone unnoticed. Historian Carter G. Woodson knew this back in 1926. That’s when he designated the second week of February as a time to commemorate his people’s history. He chose that week because it contained the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 14), both significant figures in the abolitionist movement.
Then, in 1970, the Black United Students group at Kent State University in Ohio expanded the week-long celebration to encompass all of February. For more than 50 years, it’s been called Black History Month, and in 1976, President Gerald Ford made a statement encouraging all Americans to observe the month of remembrance, “to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans.”
Recent events have vividly illustrated how important such reflection is. There are many gaps in our standard history lessons, from the cruelties perpetrated against Black communities to the sizable achievements of Black individuals.
As we remember and honor the great Black Americans of our past, we must also look at the social systems of today and recognize how they are still disenfranchising and disregarding Black members of our communities.