Recalling Carter G. Woodson black history legacy
I am not a regular viewer of “60 Minutes,” nor a connoisseur of films starring Morgan Freeman. However, this time of year I can always count on my running partner to bring up a “60 Minutes” broadcast from 2006 where Freeman said he finds Black History Month “ridiculous.”
Growing up, I was taught to always respect my elders, and therefore I have the utmost respect for my Sunday morning running partner, an African-American elder who taught me how to properly train for a marathon and many other life lessons through the years. As we make our Sunday treks across Belle Isle, we cover many topics and sometimes I opt to stay silent and simply listen and learn. However, on the topic of Black History Month, I can be silent no longer.
For anyone to say or agree that Black History Month is “ridiculous” demonstrates a total disregard of one of the most important people in American history — Dr. Carter G. Woodson.
This may not be understood by all, but Black History Month is not some kind of government handout made possible by a president’s signature on a piece of paper. Instead, Black History Month owes its roots to Woodson (the son of former slaves who became the second African-American to earn a PhD from Harvard University), along with other leaders of his day who were behind the creation of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). This organization sponsored the first “Negro History Week” in 1926.
ASNLH, today known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, was created to research and reveal the overlooked role of black people in the world’s history. To quote Woodson (Dec. 19, 1875 – April 3, 1950), “if a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” February was deemed an appropriate time for a special observance of black history not because of the shortness of the month, but instead to coincide with the birthdays of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln, who issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
To think that black history is American history and should be studied year-round, as I believe Freeman and others have advocated, is in total agreement with what Woodson and his allies wanted to accomplish. But to hold that view, while flippantly dismissing what Woodson (often referred to as the “Father of Black History”) left us is the equivalent of trashing a sacred gift.
Long before the words: “Black Lives Matter” were ever uttered, Black History Month was intended to be an engine to not only promote ongoing study of black history, but even more importantly to “bring before the world the whole truth that the truth may make men free,” as Woodson so eloquently stated.
Are we to believe that by shutting off this engine that black history will now be more fervently studied and respected by all people? This notion is nothing short of “ridiculous” and that is why Black History Month is needed now more than ever.
Scott Talley is a Detroit-based freelance writer.