Black History Month; Our American Story

Through the years and its relevance today

The story of Black History Month begins in the early 1900s, about forty years after the US abolition of slavery in 1865.

President Gerald Ford officially established Black History Month in February of 1976. He noted how we, as a nation, must “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history,” which he established in response to historian Carter G. Woodson’s attempt to eliminate the silence regarding Black achievement (NAACP editors article “Carter G. Woodson”).

To counter common racist misconceptions and stereotypes, Woodsen made it a necessary goal to take action and find a way to emphasize the accomplishments and obstacles overcome by the Black community over many centuries (Amaris Encinas article “Black History Month is not a token” USA Today). Especially at a time of continuous segregation, tension, and racism, education about Black American history was scarce in the nineteenth century and the early 1900s.

Woodson envisioned a weeklong celebration to introduce the teaching of Black history in public schools. He dedicated the second week of February as Black History Week and brought awareness to other historians. This week of celebrating the US Black community is what eventually evolved into the month-long celebration in February we know today.

Not only that, but Black History Month consists of a new theme every year announced by each president. This year’s 2024 theme is “African Americans and the Arts,” which features the artistic influences of Black heritage and their cultural expression.

Here in Orange County, there are many events to attend in celebration of Black History Month. The Orange Country Heritage Council (OCHC) is an organization led mostly by community volunteers that are dedicated to implementing fun events and activities for families with focus on the Black community. One of the biggest events they are known for hosting is their annual parade named “Orange County Black History Parade and Unity Festival.”

This year, the parade was held on February 3rd in Anaheim, CA where dances, performances, music, and food were offered to value Black culture. Other events that take place include another festival in Los Angeles on February 18th, and a meet-up event at Disneyland on February 17th.

Art museums including the Black History Month Community Gallery, Heroes Hall Museum, Santa Ana Heritage Museum, and more will be highlighting significant artwork and films created by Black artists. Local libraries also offer Black history talks, storytimes, and crafting activities for younger kids as well. These events inspire others to come together and bring communities closer.

To get a better perspective on the topic, I decided to ask two of my close friends who also live in Orange County what Black History Month means to them.

First, I asked my best friend Nicole, who is a freshman and a member of the Black community herself. She explained to me that, “Black History Month is a time dedicated to remind others that the Black race is just as equal and important to society as any other.” I felt that her response was refreshing to hear, since that is what this month is all about: justice and equal opportunities.

Next, I asked my other close friend Veronica, a sophomore, her thoughts on my question. She asserted that “Black History Month is a month dedicated to all Americans to appreciate what Black people overcame in order to gain a respectable and equal place in society,” which gave another great point of view on the topic.

Then, I chose to ask them if they know why February was chosen for Black History Month. Neither knew the answer, but both were interested in knowing that Carter G. Woodson dedicated the month to two great Americans that played crucial roles in Black history – Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglas – who both had their birthdays in February.

To participate, I plan on attending the Black History Month meet-up at Disneyland with both Veronica and Nicole on February 17th, which takes place during the same time of the “Celebrate Soulfully” event that is also held there. Attendees enjoy both the thrills of the park, a theater show spotlighting African-American traditional music, and wear purple in support of the Black community.

Black History Month ultimately honors all those of African American ancestry and speaks to the US and the world that unity is more powerful than discrimination and racism, and that rememberance of Black history is crucial in understanding how our society is shaped today.

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