black history month, also known as african heritage month, is a time to appreciate, celebrate and rejoice in the magnanimous beauty and unparalleled brilliance of the motherland and her people. in acknowledging africa's extraordinary contributions to global society, we honor all members of the diaspora. let us begin by taking an in-depth look at how this cultural phenomenon originated.
in the early 1900's, omega psi phi, one of the oldest black fraternities, commended the achievements of black people on february 12, abraham lincoln's birthday. later, in 1916, dr. carter g. woodson, an honorary member of the fraternity, 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 vigilantly distributed promotional brochures and pamphlets to various state boards of education, elementary and secondary schools, colleges, universities, women's clubs, white scholarly journals, and black newspapers and periodicals: implementing different ways to document truth.
unequivocally accepted as the founder of a 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 began 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 received his masters and ph.d. at harvard university. he also studied at the prestigious sorbonne in paris, france. but while developing as a scholar he recognized a disturbing pattern in history and literature books: africans were intentionally omitted from history. and, if they were mentioned, it was only to advance the culturally oppressive myths regarding africa and her people. this social engineering fostered in europeans a false sense of superiority and in africans a fatal sense of inferiority.
for example, the african ancestry of alexander pushkin is "blacked-out" from standard history texts. he was heralded as the father of russian literature, yet was castigated for embracing his heritage. another literary giant of african descent, alexander dumas, spent most of his life in france. dumas once stated publicly, "when i discovered i was black, i was determined to act so that men should be beneath my skin."
in germany, the word "mohr" designates black. in english, however, that same word is spelled, moor. one of the world's most revered and treasured musicians is a man of african origin: ludwig van beethoven. in germany, he's referred to as the "blackamoor." in other countries, he's known as the "black spaniard."
many folks thought we celebrated black history month in february because its the shortest month of the year, and it was 'given' to us by guilt-ridden whites. but dr. woodson, chose the second week in february to commemorate the birthdays of lincoln, and more significantly, frederick douglass. in the early 1970's, his vision was extended throughout the entire month of february. 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 miseducation 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 of accurate history within a community's collective self-value and self-worth.
we can share dr. woodson's third eye this month, and everyday of our lives, by honoring our ancestors, cultivating our spirit, and expressing our creativity. dr. woodson left behind a powerful legacy for people of African descent to begin treating our brothers and sisters with compassion, dignity, kindness, love, respect, selflessness and trust.
- 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.