Black History Month ... "Birth of A Nation"
February 2, 2016
The origins of Black History Month can be traced back to Dr. Carter G. Woodson -- historian, journalist, author, and one of the founders of the Association of Negro Life and History. Today the organization is known as the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History or ASALH. As the story goes, D.W. Griffith's 1915 movie, Birth of a Nation, inspired him to publish "The Journal of Negro History" in 1916.
Although the movie pioneered many innovative film techniques, it was a racist epic depicting African-American men as shiftless, stupid, oversexed and conniving; white male actors in black face played the parts of Negro men. The storyline covered the Civil War's aftermath. It glorified Klux Klux Klansmen as heroes protecting the virtue of white females and reversing the cultural advances provided by reconstruction for Blacks in the South.
Ten years after the creation of "The Journal of Negro History," Dr. Woodson devised a plan for a week of activities devoted to recognizing the accomplishments and contributions of Negros in America. Woodson also wanted to use it as a tool to inspire African-Americans and hopefully encourage better relations between blacks and whites. He chose February 7th, 1926 as the first Negro History Week because it included the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12th) and Frederick Douglass (Feb.14th)
Thanks to Negro History Week, requests began to pour in for more Black History information. In 1937 the increasing demand led the organization to publish "The Negro History Bulletin." It targeted Negro teachers who wanted to incorporate Black History into their lesson plans.
History is a daily process and many of those days become memorable and historical for good and bad. Much happened between 1937 and the time Black History began emerging more onto the pages of mainstream history books. I will give you glimpse into the time machine:
- World War II
- The integration of Major League Baseball
- Integration of The Armed Forces
- Korean War (Officially termed 'Police Action)
- Brown vs the Board of Education
- Integration of the NBA and NFL
- John F Kennedy as the first Catholic President
- The Greensboro Woolworth sit-ins
- Montgomery Bus Boycott
- March On Washington
- Emergence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,
- Creation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
- Cuban Missile crisis
- March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
- Enrollment of the first Black student at the University of Alabama,
- Assassination of President Kennedy
- Vietnam War (Conflict; it was never officially a War)
- Civil Rights Bill passes in Congress
- More school integration in the North and South,
- Malcom X emerges as a leader
- The Black Panthers
- The Gray Panthers
- Civil unrest and protests over the Vietnam War
- President Johnson's War on Poverty
- Assassination of Senator Bobby Kennedy
- Motown, Stax & other Black-owned record labels began popping up
- Black owned & operated radio stations came on the scene
- Martin Luther King's power as a moral leader emerged far beyond his base
- Dr. King is assassination,
- Emergence of Black studies in High schools, Colleges, and Universities
Black History Month
In 1976, the same year our country was celebrating the bicentennial, the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History expanded Black History Week to a month. President Gerald Ford urged Americans to observe Black History Month, but it was President Jimmy Carter who officially started recognizing the month from a federal government standpoint in 1978.
Fast Forward ... 2016 Birth of A Nation
Yes, I have skipped through years of advancement, achievements, and frustrations since Black History came into existence. However, I could not resist one bit of irony surrounding the movie "Birth of A Nation."
I always talk about taking an idea and giving it a new twist. Recently, at the Sundance Music Festival, "(The) Birth of A Nation" was reborn with the same name, but a different reality. This movie depicts the realities of the time and deeds by those who knew slavery was wrong.
African-American writer-director-star Nate Parker's Independent film is the real life of Nat Turner and the early 19th century slave rebellion; it won top honors at the Festival and received standing ovations. When the bidding war was over, Fox Searchlight won the rights to distribute the movie worldwide for a record $17.5 million. To add to the irony of the original movie, African-American entertainment entrepreneur and comic Byron Allen came close to getting the bid. His company, Entertainment Studios, arrived at Sundance with $20 million to spend and lost out like other close bidders because of the number of theater screens Fox Searchlight could bring the movie to.
My point is that Black History is constantly being made. Despite the various issues of today, the lessons of the past are a reminder, but not the dictator of what may African-Americans are doing every day; seizing opportunities, reinventing and succeeding.