Black History Month: the 28 days of February in which the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands recognize Black and African-American contributions to society.. However, Black History Month was not always a month-long celebration, and more importantly, it was never supposed to be.
It was in 1926 when Black historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson and his organization, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), started what was then known as Negro History Week. This week-long event encouraged the study and focus on Black culture and history in the United States with a specific theme to encompass each celebration. It occurred from Feb. 7 to Feb. 14, the week of Abraham Lincoln’s birth and Frederick Douglass’s assumed date of birth.
Woodson established Negro History Week to help create a push to include Black history in school curriculums. It was the kick-start to something that would eventually grow bigger and more influential with time.
In 1976, the year of the nation’s Bicentennial, President Gerald Ford issued the first proclamation recognizing February as National Black History Month after the ASALH made the celebration a month-long event. Since then, every sitting president has issued a proclamation for Black History Month.
“In celebrating Black History Month…we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history,” said President Ford in his proclamation.
While the structure of Black History Month serves as an important way to learn about the history of black people in our nation and world, many wonder if it is enough. Woodson’s original goal was to include Black history and culture into the school curriculum, not simply highlight it for a short time in the year. As he once said, “the mere imparting of information is not education.” This is why the discussion of having a more diverse curriculum and strengthening the ways Black history is taught has been a recent discussion for multiple states.
New Jersey recently strengthened its Amistad Commission, allowing this state commission to ensure more schools will use its curriculum when it comes to teaching Black history. California has been in the process of drafting a new bill to include ethnic studies in school curriculum. Even Connecticut has been in the works of including diverse studies into our classrooms.
On Dec. 9, 2020, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to require all high schools to offer classes in Black, Latinx, Hispanic and Puerto Rican studies to their students. Courses may be offered in the 2021-2022 school year and will then be required after that. The move comes as many felt it was necessary to provide more inclusive education to Connecticut students, especially since 12.2 percent of state residents identify as Black, and 16.9 percent identify as Hispanic.
This is one of the many pushes to provide a curriculum that is more inviting to students who would feel further recognized in these classes. Along with that, having both students and school faculty recognize other cultures and their contributions to American history and society would only better our understanding and make school a more welcoming environment. It is necessary that we teach and learn about these contributions to our nation’s history, because without them, we would be missing the pieces of the American story. More importantly, it recognizes the fact that black history is in fact American history, and it should not be confined to one month out of the year.
“Black History is one of the few things that makes America what it is. Some of what makes this world what it is will be forgotten, so it is our job to help save and educate others about black history. Black people have done so many great things, and we should not have to limit ourselves and celebrate it only during February,” said junior Faith Walker.
A push for more diverse education has already taken place at Masuk. This year, students were able to take the elective course: Diverse Voices in American History. The class is taught by Mr. Lowell, and it gives the students a wider scope on lesser-known activists, and their contributions to American progress.
“The course is called Diverse Voices, and it is diverse in the types of people it’s including, but it’s also trying to include people who you’ve never heard of in history classes. We are trying to also bring other voices that have been brushed aside in history to the forefront,” said Social Studies Instructional Leader Ian Lowell.
The class is a semester-long course that will provide a more in-depth understanding of major events and movements in American history, and will highlight the achievements of those who have otherwise been excluded from the regular curriculum. Along with this course will come a year-long class that will first be offered in the 2022-2023 school year.
This class will offer students the ability to explore the culture and history of Black, African-American, Latinx and Puerto Rican people in America, thus furthering the inclusive education that Connecticut school leaders have been advocating for. However, there are some that question whether or not this is the right way to include the history of minorities, since the state is not requiring changes to be made to curriculum in mandated history classes.
“‘Should we do it in every class? Yes, but to prioritize it, to make it the central focus of the class, also gives respect to people who can now see themselves more in the curriculum,” said Lowell.
“We’ve always tried to include all different kinds of voices in our curriculum, but by prioritizing the voices, you’re really setting them apart in terms of giving them more focus in the class,” added Lowell.
Many students anticipate the class will allow Masuk to be better informed on these groups as well as making the school as a whole a friendlier and more accepting place.
“I hope it shows Masuk the diversity and the impactful things people from all different backgrounds. This can be great for Masuk because we live in a very diverse society so our history should be just as diverse to reflect that,” said Walker.
A push for students to learn about a variety of cultures and have a greater perception of American history is just what we need. Without educating the next generation, we cannot move on from our societal problems and limits. It took nearly 100 years, but Woodson’s goal has started to become a reality.