Black history can’t be confined to a single month. That’s because four weeks cannot begin to contain the excellence Black culture has bestowed upon the world.
Besides, February was never meant to be the only time Black history was acknowledged. Black History Month has its origins in Negro History Week, a concept brought to life by Black scholar Carter G. Woodson in 1926. Woodson began the holiday to trumpet the accomplishments of Black culture in a country committed to ignoring them, setting the week in February to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Fifty years later in 1976, the week would extend into a month, creating even more space to spotlight Black accomplishments so that we might better recognize these achievements year-round.
Still, it’s tempting to reduce Black History Month to easily consumed little-known Black facts (Did you know a Black man invented the potato chip?), only to forget them until the next Black History Month rolls around.
But just as we shouldn’t celebrate moms on Mother’s Day then ignore them the other 364 days of the year, we shouldn’t celebrate Black History Month in February then fail to recognize Black contributions the other 11 months. To do so would ignore how Black contributions have influenced the way we live and work and create – despite deeply anti-Black systems in this country.
For example, in the late 1800s, Doctor Daniel Hale Williams expanded our ideas of what was possible when he founded the nation’s first Black-owned hospital and completed the world’s first successful heart surgery.
Writer and poet Audre Lorde challenged the way we think of self-care when she said that “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” With this declaration, she reminded the world that Black women – and people everywhere – were worthy of care even if a prejudiced society disagreed.
Decades before rap made it to the Super Bowl, The Last Poets and Gil Scott Heron married poetry, politics, and beats as they gave voice to the frustrations of people living on the margins and created a movement that would birth hip hop.
And artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald challenged us to rethink presidential portraiture with their colorful, breathtaking depictions of Barack and Michelle Obama, America’s first Black President and First Lady.
The contributions of Black thinkers, artists, scientists, and philosophers abound – and they’ll continue even after the 28th day of February. Remembering these contributions as part of American history is crucial, especially as efforts to whitewash our country’s past proliferate. When we observe Black history, we remember that Black excellence is not a thing of the past to be glossed over or confined to a single month. It is a force to be celebrated now, in the present.