Column: Black History should be praised 365 days a year


Christine Shelton is the editor-in-chief for The Hornet Tribune for the 2020-21 academic year. She is a 21-year-old native of Chicago, Ill. who is seeking a degree in English. She hopes to one day become a high school instructor.

Christine Shelton, Editor-in-Chief

When researching “Black History Month,” there are several things that pop up. Renowned Civil Rights activists like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks appear, or most people will read that it is a month to honor and celebrate the Black people who broke barriers and defied the odds.
Black History Month’s origin is interesting, considering how it went from a week referred to as “Negro History Week” to an entire month. Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History declared that the second week of February would be Negro History Week in 1926. The week was said to have been chosen in February because they also celebrated Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays in that month.
Honestly, this is where the research starts to confuse me. While I understand the desire to celebrate Fredrick Douglass, I never understood why Abraham Lincoln deserved to be celebrated. Yes, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, but let us not forget that he, too, was a slave owner. This notion that Black people should undeservingly celebrate a white man for merely doing the right thing has become a popular narrative in this country.
It was not until 1970, nearly 45 years later from its origin date was Negro History Week converted to an entire month, and it was only observed as a month-long celebration in the United States until almost 20 years later. Even with all the history and significance behind Black History Month, I am realizing now that as a child, I never had the chance to celebrate Black History Month for what it is: a commemoration of my Black culture, struggle, and ancestry.
I can remember attending elementary school, and at best, all we did to celebrate Black History Month is have an assembly. This assembly would be toward the end of the month because it usually took the whole month to prepare. In this assembly, faculty and students would gather in the gym and watch those assigned to the Black History Month program dance or read poetry. Our band would play the instrumental to a Negro spiritual, and we would all sit there for at least the last hour-and-a-half of school.
As I look back on it, a child’s idea of Black History Month is typically watered down to merely celebrating Black culture. It is not until you are old enough to understand slavery, oppression, discrimination, classism, mass incarceration – just to name a few barriers imposed upon us – that you can appreciate your Black heritage. Now that I am attending an HBCU, I can say that Black history holds more importance to me. I can also say that Black history goes far beyond being celebrated all year long.
As children, we are not taught about our Black history. For starters, our “American” history books are significantly whitewashed. And unless you take an African American Studies class in high school, most of the history books will not consist of anything outside of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, slavery, and colonization. If I am frank, you cannot have American history without Black history. Slavery is deemed a “touchy” subject that they would instead learn once they are older. Even then, history teachers still negate significant parts of Black history.
One thing that I love about my HBCU is that it offers an external outlet for dialogue surrounding Black culture. This institution alone is a piece of Black history, and it resides in one of the most significant cities in the world. The Marion Nine, who founded Alabama State University, were freed slaves. With their freedom, they cultivated an environment for learning for Black people in an era where white people despised Black intelligence. In turn, enrolling in this university has made me more proud of my Black heritage.
Black History Month is an opportunity to celebrate so many achievements for Black people, even the unsung heroes of our culture. Most of the enrolled students have similar backgrounds and upbringing, making it easier for everyone to relate and talk about the forbidden or hidden Black history.
As an HBCU, we are considered the epitome of Black resolution and excellence. We, more than anyone, need to know our roots. We need to know where we come from and all that has been sacrificed to get us to this point.
I do not celebrate Black History Month because my rich culture should be praised and celebrated for all 365 days of the year. There is no shortage of what black people have done for this country, and while I have learned a tremendous amount of Black history, I know it will take my life span and then some to absorb it in its entirety.