black history month, also known as african heritage month, is a time to appreciate, celebrate, reflect and rejoice in the magnanimous beauty and unparalleled brilliance of the motherland. in acknowledging africa's extraordinary contributions to global society, we honor all members of the african diaspora. let us begin by taking an in-depth look at how this unique cultural phenomenon came to be.
in the early 1900's, omega psi phi, one of the oldest african-american fraternities, first celebrated the achievements of black people on february 12, abraham lincoln's birthday. later, in 1916, dr. carter g. woodson, an honorary member of omega psi phi, convinced the association for the study of negro life and history - an organization he started - to sponsor "negro history week." his aim? to reach a larger, more diverse audience.
dr. woodson began the annual celebration in 1926 to increase awareness of, and interest, in black history amongst blacks and whites. he assiduously distributed promotional brochures and pamphlets to various state boards of education, elementary and secondary schools, colleges, universities, women's clubs, white scholarly journals, black newspapers and periodicals: implementing ways to document truth.
unequivocally accepted as the founder of this, now, cultural/national movement and observance, dr. woodson comes from humble beginnings; his parents were enslaved and illiterate. as an adolescent he worked in the west virginia coalmines to support his family; as a result, he started school later than most children, yet earned a high school diploma with honors. his motto in life was, "it is never too late to learn."
dr. woodson continued his education at harvard university where he received his master's and ph.d. he later studied at the prestigious sorbonne in paris, france. while developing as a scholar he recognized a troubling pattern in history and literature books. dr. woodson surmised africans were intentionally omitted from history, and, if they were mentioned at all, it was only done to advance culturally oppressive myths (read: lie) about africa and her people: arbitrarily imparting to europeans a false sense of superiority and to africans a fatal sense of inferiority.
for example, the african ancestry of alexander pushkin, noted father of russian literature, is peculiarly "blacked-out" from standard history texts; in fact, pushkin was castigated for embracing his heritage. another literary giant of african descent, alexander dumas, spent most of his life in france. dumas once publicly stated, "when i discovered i was black, i was determined to act so that men should be beneath my skin."
in germany, the word "mohr" means black. in english, however, that same word is spelled: moor. one of the world's most honored and treasured musicians is a man of african ancestry. we know him in america as ludwig von beethoven. in germany he is referred to as "the blackamoor." beethoven is also known in other countries as "the black spaniard."
contrary to popular belief and contemporary misconception, february was not "given" to blacks by guilt-ridden whites because its shorter than other months. dr. woodson consciously chose the second week in february to memorialize the birthdays of lincoln, and more significantly, frederick douglass. in the early 1970's his vision was extended throughout the entire month and the use of the noun "black," symbolizing power, pride and purpose, was ceremoniously added to the title.
today, dr. woodson is generally best known for his groundbreaking book, the mis-education of the negro. he wanted black history affirmed everywhere it is researched: on every continent and in every culture. like w.e.b. dubois, marcus garvey and malcolm x, dr. woodson clearly understood the power accurate history has on a people's collective self-value and worth. we share his third eye this month - and each day of our lives - honoring our ancestors, cultivating our spirit, expressing our creativity and treating our brothas and sistahs with the love and compassion they so richly deserve.
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.