From the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 15th century to the completion of President Barack Obama’s second term this year, African Americans celebrate their experiences and achievements during Black History Month.
Also referred to as the National African American History Month, the celebration originated in 1915 when Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained historian, and minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), according to History.com. The organization acknowledged accomplishments from
people of African descent. In 1926, the group sponsored a national Negro History week that in time, inspired schools and communities across the nation to recognize and appreciate African Americans.
By 1976, President Gerald R. Ford recognized Black History Month on a national scale. Since then, every president has declared February as Black History Month with a specific theme beginning with “Civilization: A World Achievement” in 1928 and “At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington” in 2013.
According to the ASNLH website, this year’s theme is called “Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories.” The theme will retrace the steps black Americans and African Americans have taken throughout history from the Underground Railroad to the house of Frederick Douglass.
UTRGV senior Jeremy Brown, whose parents originate from Jamaica, believes Black History Month is a time to raise awareness about issues that are currently affecting and have affected African Americans in the past. These modern issues include the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement that began in 2012 after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old African American Trayvon Martin.
Additionally, Brown takes the time to be thankful for the life he’s living.
“I take Black History Month as not so much of a celebration, but a time to think about how privileged I am as an African American to be where I am today,” the double major in biology pre-med and psychology said. “Having ancestors who were slaves and then being able to just be in a situation where I can get an education [and] have the opportunity to be what want to be in life … I just take the month as a month of appreciation. [I’m] paying respect to those that worked so hard and went through so much before me just to allow me to have the life that I have now.”
While the majority of people, including Brown, take the time to appreciate and reflect on black history, UTRGV junior Omar Coronado believes that history belonging to any racial minority should not be compressed to a single month.
“I think it was a nice idea at first when it started as Negro History [Week], but I don’t like it now,” the double major in art and psychology said. “Black History Month is just a highlight reel of all the major players. Even when I’m [prompted] to divide it as Black History, it should just be American history. Everyone should be included.”
Throughout grade school, American children have been taught the aggressive actions taken between the 15th and 19th centuries to transport slaves. However, in 2015, a McGraw-Hill World Geography textbook referred to these slaves as “workers” and “immigrants.” Coronado hopes that once the Black Lives Matter movement finds its way into black history, that it won’t be watered down as well.
“[They’ll be] saying something like the ‘very aggressive’ or ‘powerful Black Lives Matter movement took over American politics,’” Coronado said. “But I hope not. I think that with the way things are now–the country’s way more progressive–I don’t think [Black Lives Matter] will be painted that way. … I just think a lot of it [came] from white conservatives not wanting to admit that there was ever a problem with race in this country, so they wouldn’t let proper history be taught. By default, American history is white history.”