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Published: Saturday, 2/27/2010

February was not a gift or an insult


TODAY is the second-to-last day of Black History Month. That means no more black history observances, celebrations, commentaries, or programs after tomorrow until next year.

Undoubtedly, an awful lot of people who are glad about that will wipe their brows and say: "Whew! I'm glad that's over."

Meanwhile, plenty of others might fret that they didn't get to finish their programs.

But hold on a minute. There won't be another mention of black history until next February only if you continue to observe this history in just the second month of the year. But what would happen if a black history program were held in March, July, or September?

The answer is "probably nothing." But this is not a campaign to stop black history observances in February. Actor Morgan Freeman is right that black history is American history.

Because black history received short shrift for decades, it's still necessary to celebrate it, all through the year. Both African-Americans and Caucasians could be better informed about black history.

Some whites ask why there even needs to be a black history month. What about other groups' history, they argue. A former white colleague responded that whites and other groups have the other 11 months.

Though he was being facetious, there is truth in his statement. Many schools might overlook contributions from black Americans were it not for Black History Month.

This history includes so much more than the modern civil rights movement's notable and important figures, such as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat on a public bus sparked the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott that led to other civil rights achievements.

Black History Month forces observers to uncover truths instead of repeating the same old, same old every year - for instance, references to Crispus Attucks, sometimes labeled the first martyr of the American Revolution, and Sojourner Truth, the feminist and abolitionist.

Black history is far more than Colin Powell, the first African-American secretary of state; Condoleezza Rice, the first black female secretary of state; David Paterson, the first black governor of New York, and Barack Obama, the first black president.

Without Black History Month, many people would know only those high-profile figures. They would not know about the long list of other important persons who receive far less attention.

Meanwhile, there remains a void of knowledge among African-Americans as well. How many times have you heard a black person complain that the shortest and coldest month of the year is reserved for black history?

Such comments have become quite tiresome. The reason February is Black History Month has been explained over and over, but it needs to be addressed again.

To the uninformed who insist that Black History Month is either a gift or an insult, the truth is that February was chosen by the noted historian Carter G. Woodson.

The absence of education about blacks' contributions to America inspired Mr. Woodson, an African-American, to establish Negro History Week in February, 1926. Since the number of activities surrounding black history has increased, the observances were expanded to include the whole month.

Mr. Woodson chose February because he wanted to pay homage to abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass and to President Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are in February.

There you have it until next year, or sooner if you like.

Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.

Contact her at:rrussell@theblade.com

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