Returning to the Roots of Black History Month: Part One

Updated: Mar 8

This is part one of a two-part series about the debate over Black History Month, which considers its origins, its role in our society, and its future in our community.

After more than forty years of celebrating Black History Month in this country, a years-long national debate lingers on whether we should “retire or reboot” the annual commemoration.

Though Black History Month might be “short in days,” one Atlantic reporter acknowledged, “it is increasingly long on controversy.”

As educational reporter Melinda D. Anderson’s reporting suggested, debate over Black History Month comes from all points on the political spectrum—champions suggest that a special month to commemorate the achievements of Black Americans is necessary to combat whitewashed American history, while critics charge that the teaching of Black history should not be confined to one day, week, or month in the calendar year.

Moreover, the debate lingers at a time when the teaching of Black History is under attack by conservative thinkers in our society, according to University of Tennessee history professor Brandon Winford.

“As much as we have Black History month and efforts to incorporate African American History into the broader American history narrative, there are also on-going efforts to resist the teaching of Black History at every educational level,” Winford said. “The resistance, for example, of the teaching of critical race theory … is really an attack on Black history."

“Even in this political climate, you can’t say, ‘Let’s not teach Black history,’ but you can say, ‘Let’s not teach critical race theory,’ and cram everything you believe that to be under the guise of critical race theory …. For me, that’s what they are attacking—Black history.”

The effects of this climate, Winford contends, are attacks on Black history initiatives, such as the 1619 Project, and traditions, such as Black History Month.

The reality is “a lot of people don’t even know the origins of Black History month and how it came to be,” Winford said. To that end, Winford shares the origin story of Black History Month with the students whom he teaches [see below], in hopes that they will understand more about the history of Black History movement, launched by Carter G. Woodson and his contemporaries, more than a century ago before they enter into any dialogue about the place of Black history in our society.

Winford Black History Month Origins
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