In 1915, Harvard graduate and proclaimed “Father of Black History,” Dr. Carter G Woodson (1875-1950) travelled from Washington DC to Illinois for the 50th anniversary of emancipation to see an exhibition highlighting the progress and achievements of the African American community in those 50 years. Despite being held in the same location as the Republican National Convention three years prior, the event drew crowds of 6,000-12,000 people waiting to see the exhibits. The three-week celebration inspired Dr. Woodson to begin a scientific study of black life and history, including cataloguing the many achievements and contributions to society made by black individuals. In the following weeks, on September 9, 1915, he and his associates founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).
Under this new association, Dr. Woodson and his colleagues worked tirelessly to publish the findings of black intellectuals, while urging black civic organizations to promote these achievements. In 1924, this work culminated in the creation of Negro History and Literature Week, later named Negro Achievement week, to take place during the week of February which contained the birthdays of Frederick Douglass (the 14th), whose birthday had been celebrated by the black community since the 1890s, and Abraham Lincoln (the 12th), whose birthday had been celebrated since his assassination.
Woodson’s vision for this celebration was precise in that he wanted to glorify the black community not as a community that created a few praiseworthy men, but as a great race worthy of praise in its own right. After all, even when contemplating the importance of Abraham Lincoln in ending slavery, it was not his actions that freed the slaves, but the Union Army and the hundreds of black soldiers and sailors within it. Rather than focusing on Douglass and Lincoln, Woodson knew their movement needed to focus on the countless number of black men and women who helped make human civilization what it is today. What he didn’t know was how powerful and well-received this celebration would be.
Celebrated in schools and in public, the movement was able to attach itself to the momentum of racial pride and consciousness in the post-WWI United States. In reaction to the celebrations there was massive movement on a local level, with small but numerous groups forming their own black history clubs, teachers demanding material to better educate their students, and progressive whites endorsing the efforts both within the academic community and the broader community at large. As the years went on, the celebrations grew and the association scrambled to meet the demand for educational materials, making pictures, lesson plans, posters, and plays for historical performances. Themes were established each year, and mayors across the country made major proclamations in support.
Over time, the scale of the success of the event became unmanageable, with novices speaking as experts and others looking to turn a profit. These struggles highlighted the most important point of the movement to Woodson: One week is not enough. Like many of our contemporaries, he felt that the study of black history was too important to cram into one single week. The study of black history, especially in the United States, is far too important to be an addendum. While it was generations before the mainstream support of the idea, this sentiment sent the movement well on its way towards Black History Month before the end of the 1960s.
This year, the theme for Black History Month is “Black Migrations,” centering around the forced migrations and human trafficking of the African peoples. This theme is largely focused on the institutionalization of slavery in the United States, starting in 1619 with the arrival of the first slave ships to the colony of Virginia, and how the laws of the colony legally subordinated persons of African descent.
However, the focus is not entirely on slavery, but on “400 Years of Perseverance.” This emphasizes the diversity and constancy of the movement of African peoples, not solely forceful relocation to a life of slavery, but also escaping slavery to the northern or western US, emigrating to Africa, moving from rural to urban areas, moving from the Caribbean to the United States, and a litany of other geographical shifts. As with all of black history, the history of black migration is far more diverse, storied, interesting, and surprising than many of us in the US were ever taught.
For further enrichment on this ever-complex subject, please feel welcome to attend any of the SRU events listed below! The students and faculty who put so much of their time into these events would surely love to have you there!
For a more digital method of participation, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @StoneHouseCPH for various content throughout the month.
5 p.m., Feb. 6, Weisenfluh Dining Hall,
Hosted by the Slippery Rock Student Government Association and the SRU President's Office.
Discussions will address the question, "What would SRU be as a more racially diverse community?" Register for the event on CORE.
Black History Month "Jeopardy!":
12:30 p.m., Feb. 7, SSC, Room 325,
Hosted by the Student Union for Multicultural Affairs.
Black Mirror: A Discussion on Black Masculinity:
5 p.m., Feb. 8, SSC, Room 319
Hosted by KINGS Org. and Alpha Phi Alpha.
SGA Movie Series presents "Green Book”:
8 p.m., Feb. 8 and 9; 7 p.m., Feb. 10, SSC Theater.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Founders Day Celebration:
12:30 p.m., Feb. 12, SSC, Room 323
Hosted by the NAACP chapter at SRU.
"The Hate U Give" movie and discussion:
5 p.m., Feb. 12, SSC Theater
Hosted by Phi Alpha Theta.
Dating with a Twist:
5 p.m., Feb. 14, SSC, Room 323
Hosted by the NAACP with a discussion about the expectations that American society places on dating and relationships.
SGA Movie Series presents "BlacKkKlansman:"
6 p.m., Feb. 15;
8 p.m., Feb. 16;
7 p.m., Feb. 17, SSC Theater.
5:30 p.m., Feb. 17, SSC Ballroom
Hosted by BAS with a motivational speech by Devantae Butler on reaching new dreams.
Wild 'n' Out comedy show, SRU edition:
6 p.m., Feb. 18, SSC Ballroom
Hosted by BAS.
King's Dream and Beyond panel discussion:
12:30 p.m., Feb. 19, SSC Theater
Hosted by the SRU History Department.
A Conversation with Keke Palmer, actress, singer/songwriter:
7:30 p.m., Feb. 19
Hosted by the University Program Board, OIE, the Frederick Douglass Institute and the Gender Studies program.
For more information including ticket information, visit: www.srupb.com.
Flexing in My Complexion:
6 p.m., Feb. 20, Eisenberg Classroom Building, Room 111
Hosted by BAS with a discussion about how American society views African-Americans will different skin complexions.
The Evolution of Music from 1970s to Now:
5 p.m., Feb. 21, SSC, Room 323
Hosted by Kappa Alpha Psi.
PNC Bank Prize Wheel:
12:30 p.m., Feb. 21, SSC lobby.
SGA Movie Series presents "Creed II:"
8 p.m., Feb. 22 and 23;
7 p.m., Feb. 24, SSC Theater.
Cultural Immersion Trip to Memphis, Tennessee:
Hosted by BAS.
A Space of their Own: The African-American Gardening Tradition:
5 p.m., Feb. 25, Macoskey Center
Hosted by OIE, the History Department and the Macoskey Center.
6 p.m., Feb. 26, SSC Ballroom
Hosted by BAS with dinner, dancing, an awards ceremony and a live music by the Bill Henry Band.
Trailblazers of Yesterday and Today:
5 p.m., Feb. 27, at Vincent Science Center, Room 102
A discussion hosted by Queens Org.
Soul Food Tasting:
5 p.m., Feb. 28, SSC Theater
Hosted by OIE and the Black Faculty and Staff Association.
For more information about Black History Month events, contact the OIE at: 724.738.2700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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