“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition. It becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world.”
The above quote was made in 1926 by Carter Woodson, one of the more prominent figures in negro history in the United States. Every year, around this time, his legacy as a historian with a deep concern for how blacks manipulated their memories is brought vividly to mind in the celebrations of black culture and history.
February though is the globally licensed month of mushiness. Usually long before the second month of the year comes around, there is a lot of talk centered around love and romanticism that trails all through February and climaxes on the 14th otherwise known as Valentine’s day. Afreada magazine, for example, is holding a Valentine’s day competition and running a series of love stories, publishing a story everyday from the 1st of February to the 14th.
The social media space is generally buzzing with discussions on how those lucky enough to be in love can make this month and the 14th more memorable for themselves and their partners. However, in countries like the United States and Canada, February is also the month for the annual celebration of black history. As the name implies, there is a determined focus on the trajectory of black experience in the world and on how blacks everywhere can encourage themselves to improve their conditions.
This year’s celebration is themed “African Americans in Times of War” in commemoration of a century since the First World War erupted in 1918. The origin of Black History Month is even more important than its annual celebration. As at the time in 1926 when Woodson inaugurated Negro History Week – later to be known as Black History Month – there was almost no documentation or study of black history. It was like James Baldwin noted in 1964: the history of America was taught without cognizance of negro presence. This lacuna was not just in the history books, it was also evident in the conversations and narratives that were shaping America’s history.
Woodson’s solution to this frustration was to invent a space for the exclusive reminder of black people where they were coming from. This produced first, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (today known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History – ASALH) and later, the more popular Journal of Negro History. February was the preferred month because it also contained the birthdays of two men greatly admired by American blacks, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas.
When the tradition of Black History Month started, churches, schools and Departments of Education of several states joined in spreading awareness about the event. Black history month is a study of everything that involves and influences black experience. Movies, books, speeches are all x-rayed with the goal of highlighting what blacks have been through and continue to go through.
This year, the conversation is around the effect of wars on Africans and the roles black institutions have played in these crisis. How do blacks suffer when the world goes to war? What opportunities are denied them and how are they compelled to be partakers in fights they most times do not instigate? Film critics of the New York Times have selected 28 movies for the 28 days the month will last. All selected from the 20th century, they are meant to “convey the larger experience of black Americans in cinema.”
Although this event originates from the United States – and is indeed officially observed in only 4 other countries – Africans can exploit the opportunity it provides. The focus of the BHM is on history and the role it plays in shaping the future, understanding the ugly experiences of the past and reiterating a stubborn resolve to ensure they are not revisited.
These are the issues that should occupy the minds of everyone even as we drown in the beautiful experiences of love that comes with this month.
Featured Image: PushBack