black history month, also known as african heritage month, is a time to appreciate, celebrate, reflect & rejoice in the magnanimous beauty & unparalleled brilliance of the motherland. in acknowledging africa's extraordinary contributions to global society, we honor all members of the afrikan diaspora. let us begin by taking in an-depth look at just 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 & 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 & interest in black history among both blacks & whites. he diligently distributed promotional brochures & pamphlets to various state boards of education, elementary & secondary schools, colleges, universities, women's clubs, white scholarly journals, black newspapers & periodicals: implementing ways to document truth.
unequivocally accepted as the founder of this, now, national movement & observance, dr. woodson comes from humble beginnings. he was born to parents who had been enslaved & were 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 he 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 & ph.d. he later studied at the prestigious sorbonne in paris, france. while developing as a scholar he recognized a disturbing pattern in history & literature books. he was convinced africans were intentionally omitted from history, &, if they were mentioned at all, it was done only to advance the culturally oppressive myths (read: lies) about africa & her people: imparting, by default, to europeans a false sense of superiority & 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. 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 & treasured musicians is a man of african origin. we know him in america as ludwig van beethoven; in germany, he is referred to as "the blackamoor." beethoven is also known in other countries as "the black spaniard."
contrary to past belief & contemporary misconception, february was not "given" to blacks by guilt-ridden whites because it's the shortest month of the year. dr. woodson consciously chose the second week in february to memorialize the birthdays of lincoln, & more significantly, abolitionist & freedom fighter, frederick douglass. in the early 1970's, dr. woodson's vision was extended throughout the entire month of february. moreover, the use of the noun "black," which symbolized power, pride & purpose, was ceremoniously added to the title.
today, dr. woodson is generally best known for his groundbreaking book, "the miseducation of the negro." he wanted black history affirmed everywhere it is researched: on every continent & in every culture. just like marcus garvey, maya angelou, malcolm x & queen mother moore, dr. woodson clearly understood the power accurate history has on a people's collective self-determination, self-value & self-worth.
february 1 is the first day of african heritage month. comedian paul mooney calls black people, "stolen africans." however you identify yourself, all god's children can share dr. woodson's third eye this month & every day of our lives. how? we can honor our ancestors, cultivate our spirit, express our creativity & treat our brothers & sisters with the love & compassion they so richly deserve. ache alafiani.
- 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.