The seeds of Black History Month were planted almost 100 years ago by Carter G. Woodson. Doctor Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and “Negro History Week.” As time went on the need for a more impactful movement became needed. Particularly during the 1960s.
Eventually, college campuses and other organizations came to organize Black History Month, also known as African American History Month. To this day, February is dedicated to celebrating the milestones of Black History. These landmarks show the impact that African Americans have had on our society as a whole.
What it Means to Celebrate Black History Month
The Origins of Black History Month
Dr. Woodson saw in the 1920s increasing interest in and the growth of African-American culture. Writers and artists began sharing what it meant to them to be a part of black culture.
Dr. Woodson hoped Negro History Week and the Association would build into a celebration for the progress and accomplishments made by African American people. This would be a vehicle for racial progress and change through the 21st Century.
After 50 years, Negro History Week became Black History Month in 1976 during the bicentennial anniversary of the United States of America. During the time, leaders felt an increased need to preserve, celebrate, and remember black culture throughout the year. This probably grew out of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s, as well as an awareness of the academic underrepresentation of black figures in American history.
In fact, President Gerald Ford, reportedly said that all Americans should take time to “recognize the important contribution made to our nation’s life and culture by black citizens.”
Black History Month Today
Today for many people and organizations, celebrating Black History Month can often mean studying the lives of black historical figures.
People honored during this month often include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Fredrick Douglass, and even supportive white figures such as Abraham Lincoln. Schools get involved by running art contests about black history heroes, as well as focusing class reading on works by black authors.
Every year Black History Month celebrates a determined theme. In 2020, the theme is African Americans and the Vote, which capitalizes on two important voting rights anniversaries.
The first anniversary is the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment which gave black men the right to vote after the Civil War in 1870. The second anniversary in question is the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote in 1920.
These Amendments did not mark the end of black voting rights problems, but they are landmarks of progress. Throughout the 1900s there were laws and movements that weakened and devalued the vote for black men and women.
How to Get Involved in Black History Month
In the past century, the organization that Dr. Woodson founded has since become known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Every year they announce the new theme for Black History Month, host events, sponsor growth for local branches, host essay contests, and encourage local history projects.
Two particular events that the ASALH hosts are the Annual Black History Luncheon and the Annual Association Meeting and Conference. Both events feature programs that emphasize and discuss each year’s theme. Distinguished guest speakers are also invited to present their observations about the impact that African Americans have on the culture of the United States and the world.
This year’s speaker at the Annual Luncheon is Mr. Lonnie G. Bunch III. Mr. Bunch is the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian. His duties include overseeing 19 museums, the National Zoo, 21 libraries, and several other research and educational centers.
Outside of joining an event sponsored by the ASALH, individuals may find local events, contests, or learning opportunities. However, for the most part, how one celebrates Black History Month is up to the individual. This could mean experiencing works of art such as plays, songs, books, or speeches made by someone of color and studying their impact. It could mean supporting a local business.
How Other Organizations Celebrate
In recent years, other organizations, but especially companies have begun commemorating Black History Month through public relations campaigns or special merchandise. One company highlighted by Sonia Thompson of Forbes was Target. During February 2020, Target released a Black History Month assortment with around 100 items that showcase the legacy of the black community. The retail chain has also decided to highlight products from black-owned businesses.
Of this endeavor, Thompson wrote, “Target created an experience that helped their customers, including my mother and loved ones feel like they belonged.” The full article is available online at Forbes.com.
What Black History Month Means to Us
At the Cochran Firm, we can’t help but be reminded of our founder Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. every day. His legacy is that of justice, and defense of the underrepresented. While he defended several high-profile clients including O.J. Simpson, his passion was to help regular everyday people get the compensation they needed. This passion, in fact, was what led him to found the Cochran Firm as a personal injury law firm.
He believed strongly in education. He helped establish scholarships at the University of California at Los Angeles. He also founded the Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Academy of Legal Studies and Community Service in East Orange, New Jersey. He also had a hand in founding the Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Center for Early Learning at Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles.
It is our goal to maintain his legacy for serving people who have been harmed by others, corporations, or government organizations or individuals. His dedication is our dedication.
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