The Purpose of Black History Month

Black History Month sparks an annual debate about the continued usefulness of a month dedicated to the history of one race. Several journalists argue the advantages and disadvantages of emphasizing one month of the year to promote African American History.

When Carter G. Woodson started Negro History Week, his purpose was for the history of African Americans to become considered a more significant part of American history as a whole. According to historian John Hope Franklin, Woodson “continued to express hope that Negro History Week would outlive its usefulness”. The purpose of Black History Month is to promote awareness of African American history to the general public. It is arguable that despite the opinions of several critics, Black History Month has several advantages, and to an extent, Woodson’s hopes were realized.

During Black History Month, African American history is taught to thousands of students at the elementary, high school and university levels respectively. African American history is an extremely important part of American history, and it is almost impossible to find a American History textbook that does not include passages about black history. It is seldom argued that America’s youth does not at least somewhat benefit from having an annual Black History Month, however, several critics argue that the adult population now perceives the month of February from a different angle.

One argument states the question: why is black history celebrated over the shortest month of the year? It is argued that Black History Month has become a “ready made excuse to ignore African American history for the other 11 months of the year”, thus promoting racism. Journalists argue that by dedicating a single month of the year to black history, it provokes a tendency for people to assume that black history is separate from American history. It is no secret that although racism has come a long way in the past century, prejudice is still an imposing problem on American society. Joseph Wayne states that “One month out of every year, Americans are given permission to commemorate the achievements of black people. This rather condescending view fails to acknowledge that a people and a country’s past should be nurtured and revered; instead, at this time, the past of black Americans is handled in an expedient and cavalier fashion denigrating the very people it seeks to honour”.

Other critics claim that Black History Month has become a marketing or commercialization month, providing the opportunity to advertise and sell more goods.Society is missing the “essence of Carter G. Woodson’s dream” and in many cases companies are using the commemoration month to their advantage.

Black history month has somewhat lost its significance among American society as the month of February is also American Heart Month, International Boost Self-Esteem Month, International Embroidery Month, Library Lovers Month, National Cherry Month, National Children’s Dental Health Month, National Snack Food Month, and Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket Month.It can also be argued that Black History Month has now been diversified into the idea of promoting multiculturalism within communities, rather than promoting awareness of the history of African Americans. Whether or not this statement is true or not, Carter G. Woodson believed that black history was a missing segment in the minds of most American Historians of his day. Although racism may never be fully eliminated, Black History Month has certainly played a key role in establish African American history as historically significant part of American History.


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