On the Eve of BLM@School Week: Why We STILL Need Black History Month Programs (Honoring the life & legacy of Dr. Carter G. Woodson)

It is time for 2020 Vision…that which sees forward by looking at events past. It is our Sankofa moment. Our kujichagalia time…

Black History Month is as relevant today as it was 100 years ago. When Dr. Carter G. Woodson wrote “not to know what one’s race has done in former times is to continue always as a child” (April, 1926), he was imagining the value of education to broaden and deepen the self concept of the progeny of the African in America, a country whose constraining institutions rendered this progeny nearly helpless in their ignorance of self. Their goals for the week–he did not work in isolation–read a lot like our demands in the movement to honor Black Lives at School (BLM@School). On the eve of the week, I share thoughts from the pages of the Journal of Negro History, a legacy publication established in the sociological imagination of Dr. Woodson and his contemporaries.  

With prophetic accuracy, Dr. Woodson describes the broken promises of participation of this progeny in politics, work, education, housing. He outlines power struggles that are born out of a lack of space–physical or abstract–for brown bodies (black bodies) in a land valued for white bodies.

By 1927, the second annual celebration of the week, he clearly articulates the goal:”to save and popularize the records of the race that it may not become a negligible factor in the thought of the world” (p. 104), By 1927, Woodson encouraged educators to expand education to include ancient triumphs and continental Africa’s intellectual treasure, its capital, as a social, cultural, geological and political force of power and authority. At the same time, he acquiesced (perhaps) to brand Negro History Week, History Week as he nods on the page to the contributions of the dominant groups from Europe and the United States.

He summarized the goals and accomplishments of this movement in education:

  • To create a demand for Negro pictures and literatures
  • To disabuse the Negro mind of the idea of inferiority
  • To increase understanding in a key principle about racial bias: it  undermines ALL truth
  • To establish a global research agenda in the study of Negroes

With that I amplify the national demands for Black Lives Matter at School Week (https://blacklivesmatteratschool.com/): 

  • End zero tolerance policies
  • Mandate Black history and ethnic studies in K-12 schools 
  • Hire more Black teachers
  • Fund counselors not cops

Whether you embrace the 13 principles by hanging posters or leading lessons, make Black Lives visible, listen for their voices, celebrate their stories, expect them to be great but support them as they grow. Resist the temptation to accept false narratives and stereotypes, or gaze at their joys or pains…celebrate Black lives in the United States and across the globe as it is lived now and in historical context. 

REFERENCES

Woodson, C. G. “The Celebration of Negro History Week, 1927.” The Journal of Negro History, vol. 12, no. 2, 1927, pp. 103–109. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2714049. 

_____. “Negro History Week.” The Journal of Negro History, vol. 11, no. 2, 1926, pp. 238–242. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2714171.

About Dr. Joy

I am a life lover...I teach. I read. I write. I love. I pray. I eat. I dream.
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