Yes, We Still Need Black History Month

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Listen to the commentary on 'Morning Edition.'

So it's February. That means school kids across America are learning that George Washington Carver didn't actually invent the peanut, and a black man did invent the stoplight. And while the kids are learning, February by February, grown-ups are asking if maybe it's time to retire Black History Month.

This year, one op-ed writer flat-out said Black History Month "has come to seem quaint, jarring, anachronistic" and "robs blacks of [their] part in U.S. history."

The country is for sure in a different place than it was when historian Carter G. Woodson originated "Negro History Week" in 1926. Most obvious, of course, is that 83 years later we have a black man in the White House. Beyond that, black American history is now seemingly cranked out on a regular basis. Eric Holder becomes the first black attorney general. Mike Tomlin becomes the second black coach to win a Super Bowl championship in three years. The Republican National Committee is so desperate for relevance it elects Michael Steele as its chairman, and does so over Katon Dawson, who until last September belonged to a whites-only country club. Somewhere Strom Thurmond is doing about 8,000 rpms in his grave.

So, clearly, a nation whose icons are the likes of Tiger Woods, Oprah and Barack Obama doesn't need a Black History Month.

Yeaaaah, no.

What the advocates of dumping Black History Month miss is that watching Tiger sink a 20-foot putt or Oprah cooking with Rachael Ray doesn't exactly teach the kiddies about the Tuskegee Airmen or the Middle Passage or Plessy v. Ferguson. That's kind of like saying you can get a master class in Hispanic heritage by watching an episode of Ugly Betty.

Now, I happen to agree that Black History Month is a set-aside. But the reason it's set aside is because even in 2009, most schools do a poor job of integrating black history — or Hispanic history or Asian-American history — into their yearly curriculum. Are kids really taught about the Nisei brigade or Executive Order 9066, the Trail of Tears or the National Farm Workers Association?

This isn't the history of one ethnicity. It's our history. And until our history is fully explored throughout the school year, then Black History Month remains relevant.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from