Celebrate Black History Month

By on February 3, 2014
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Last Tuesday, President Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union Address. That is six more than any other African American.

45 years, nearly to the date, after the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom a former U.S. senator from Illinois, accepted the Democratic Nomination for President in Denver, Colorado, at Mile High Stadium. Nearly six years later, and nearly 50 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the 44th President of the United States is in the midst of his second consecutive term.

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In 2012, the New York Times reported that a team of genealogists from Ancestry.com  “said it had evidence that ‘strongly suggests’ that Barack Obama’s family tree— on his mother’s side— stretches back nearly four centuries to a slave in colonial Virginia named John Punch.” The incidental discovery was “stumbled upon,” said Anastasia Harman, the lead researcher. “We were just doing general research into the president’s family tree, and as we started digging back in time, we realized that the Bunch family [had mixed race heritage] were African-American.” Although the DNA-driven (Y chromosomal) research is not an ultimately definitive link, independent genealogists have confirmed that the wording “strongly suggests” was a “safe” and appropriate description of the analysis.

As a punishment for trying to escape his servitude, in 1640, John Punch was the first African to be legally declared a slave, although African indentured servants had been occupying the Chesapeake Bay area since 1617. If the link is ever definitively confirmed, it would mean that Barack Obama would be the 11th great-grandson of the first slave of the first slave in Colonial America.

Roots, such as the President’s mixed race heritage are at the crux of Black History Month. Even for those like Morgan Freeman, who insist that the month “is ridiculous,” and that “Black history is American History, and thus should not be marginalized or “relegated” to one month,” still place a value on cultural literacy.

The predecessor to Black History Month was created in 1926 in the United States, when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week.” This week was chosen because it marked the birthday of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, whose birthdays are the 12th and 14th respectively, and because it coincided with preexisting celebrations within the Black community during this time centered on the two figures.

The expansion of Black History Week to Black History Month was first proposed by the leaders of the Black United Students at Kent State University in February 1969. The first celebration of the Black History Month took place at Kent State one year later, in February 1970.

In 1976 as part of the United States Bicentennial, the informal expansion of Negro History Week to Black History Month was officially recognized by the U.S. government. President Gerald Ford spoke in regards to this, urging Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

In 1987 and 1995 respectively, the United Kingdom and Canada began observing the month.

Often cited as the father of Black history, and the founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life & History (ANSLH), which has begotten the Journal of African American History, Woodson noted that African American contributions “were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them.” Race and prejudice, he concluded, “is merely the logical result of tradition, the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind.”

Dr. Woodson implored of the public to extend their study of Black history, and hoped that the history would “inspire greater achievements” among the Black community.

“I think it is important that we know [the history] because as Americans, we’re united. And nowadays, we have some modern issues that are more politically centered with discussions that aren’t being discussed as far as discrimination, but when it comes to race, I think we are still making some strides. Obviously we can improve, but we are still making strides. It is important to understand where everyone in this country comes from their background,” said sophomore kinesiology major Carter Lotz.

“Black History Month is a vital part of American culture, simply because [1] we are in the South, and here in Birmingham, [we’ve] experienced the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, and have experienced the racism and prejudice that comes from the persecution of a minority group,” said junior microbiology major, Jessica Lopez.

Acknowledging that Black History Month means “a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” Lopez also asserted that “it’s also a time to celebrate the diversity and the strides that American history has made in terms of acceptance. So I’m all for Black History Month.”

In celebrating said strides, the UAB community has planned a bulk of events for the month. An interorganizational effort including B-MEN,  the Multicultural Council, the Office for Multicultural Diversity & Programs, the NAACP, the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA), National Society for Black Engineers (NSBE), National Association for Black Accountants (NABA),  SAC, Student Life, the UAB Lecture Series, the School of Medicine’s Office of Diversity & Multicultural Affairs, the African American Studies Program, NPHC, SafeZone, the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Faculty and Success, the Gay Straight Student Alliance (GSSA), and others, the UAB community, spearheaded by the Black Student Awareness Committee (BSAC), has endeavored to create a broad and comprehensive palette of programming to serve the student body.

Following the cemented tradition of heritage months, Lee Daniels, director of the critically acclaimed Lee Daniels’ The Butler, will be the featured speaker for the month. The lecture will occur February 17th, at 7 PM in the Alys Stephens’ Center Jemison Concert Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

For more detailed information, look for the banner calendar on campus, visit http://www.uab.edu/students/multicultural-and-diversity-programs/programs/cultural-engagement/history-and-heritage-month-celebrations, or follow @BSACatUAB on Twitter or bsacuab on Instagram.

Download Black History Month Celebration flyer here.

*This article synthesizes a variety of sources.

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