Zealous black college students, of the late 1960s, played a large role in the nationwide popularization of Black History Month.
With a newfound pride and African cognizance, black students initiated Black History clubs focusing not only on the past but also on the present and future generations. Frequent topics of club meetings included everything from the voyage of Africans seized for the purpose of slavery to ideas to advance the Civil Rights movement.
But blacks were not the only attendants at these gatherings. Progressive whites attended the meetings as well. The agenda—nationwide awareness of black accomplishments, racial equality, desegregation, and national brotherhood. Nearly a century after Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s vision of integrating Negro history into American history, Black History Month has a new face among college students.
“I feel Black History Month is sort of too little, too late,” said Samantha Herrington, senior English major with honors at Texas Wesleyan. “I know it started in the 70s and was adapted from Negro History Week, so it must have been a product of the Civil Rights movement. So if I calculate that correctly, BHM came about 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, so definitely too late. As for how it is too little, I feel BHM serves to highlight, rather than correct, the disconnect between white-dominated history and the history of people of color.”
Herrington, who jokingly referred to herself as Jewpanese (Jewish and Japanese), views BHM as being something different from the original hopes of Woodson.
Woodson’s passion in establishing Negro History Week lay in the eventual understanding that Black history is American history. Rather than being studied as two isolated histories, he hoped for a day when the two would be acknowledged and studied as one.
For Herrington, racial isolation is not the only concern about BHM.
“I think BHM focuses too much on black males (other than maybe Rosa Parks), and further serves to alienate female people of color,” Herrington said. “And, yeah, this is definitely a case of trying to beat and shape non-white history into a suitable mold for white consumption. We live in a white-dominated, patriarchal society. So of course, any study into non-white history has to be somehow acceptable and ‘safe’ from the point of view of white males.”
In the information age, more than half a century after the Civil Rights movement, over a century after Women’s Suffrage We The People, black, white, male, female, have not fulfilled Dr. Woodson’s, Emmeline Pankhurst’s, or Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream—brotherhood, equality, and freedom.
Another Texas Wesleyan student shared his thoughts on BMH.
“We do not have any similar events in England that I am aware of,” said John Humphrey, senior English major at Texas Wesleyan. “I like the idea of celebrating any people who have risked and sacrificed for equality and humanity.”
Humphrey, like many others, has experienced the deficiency of American history.
“As a college student who hopes to become a teacher, I am aware of the cultural diversity here in America and would like to learn more in preparation for the years ahead,” Humphrey said. “I have not studied African American literature either at TCC [Tarrant County College] or at Wesleyan, [but] celebrating people who have made a true contribution to society provides role models to all, regardless of race.”
So, while BHM may have been a long time coming, it appears that today’s students, like those of the past, agree that cultural diversity should be celebrated. And people, regardless of race, should be acknowledged for attempts to make the world a better place for everyone.
In keeping with the tradition of recognizing positive contributions, some of Texas Wesleyan’s students are hosting events on campus.
Texas Wesleyan’s Black Student Association will be hosting a Black History Month celebration throughout February to honor black history, engage the present and plan for the future.
“BSA will have a panel discussion, including students from various schools coming out as well as other figures within our community talking and figuring out controversial topics…[including] Black America’s position in corporate America,” said Deborah Kimbuta, senior criminal justice major and service and publicity chair of BSA. “This will be held on Texas Wesleyan’s campus, on Feb.11, at 6:30 p.m.”
Students can be on the lookout for reminders and details of other events on campus.
“Every week will be dedicated to a special milestone or person within BHM,” Kimbuta said. “We will have mini movie and game nights that will soon be announced. We will also be holding a big event on Feb. 27, including an open-mike and slam poetry competition hosted by Mike Guinn. We will have artists selling their art, people in the food industry bringing in business cards and samples. It will be a night of fun but also massive marketing. This year we really wanted our theme to be promoting the next generation and reigniting the sense of pride and excellence…whether or not it fits with the national theme, I’m unsure of.”
As for the new face of Black History Month, no one can say what Dr. Woodson would think. But, without question, the U.S. has a long way to go before it reaches his primary goal.
“Non-white people have their history and culture relegated to an ‘other’ position rather than being included in the study of overall human history,” Herrington said.