A Black History Lesson for All
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Finally, a word about Black History Month.
This Friday, the 1st of February, marks the beginning of the annual month-long observance. Now I know that many wags have had their fun with Black History Month. They want to know why black folks get the shortest month and a cold one at that, and from my perspective as a broadcaster, the hardest month to pronounce.
Can I just tell you? I am a Black History Month fan. In part, I will admit that that's because I'm a very orderly person. Some people might say rigid, but I prefer orderly, and I appreciate having time set aside to do things. So somebody tells me February is a good month to think about black folks' achievements, why, that is perfectly fine with me.
But another reason I like Black History Month is that I like what it represents, like so much of the history of people of African descent in this country. It is a triumph of audacity, imagination and persistence, and it stands as a model for many others who feel they have struggled for dignity and recognition.
Here's a quick tutorial. It was a brainchild of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a son of former slaves, a laborer in the Kentucky coal mines. He didn't get to high school until he was 20 years old, but went on to get a Ph.D. from Harvard. Appalled that the history books either ignored or slighted the achievements of blacks, he launched Negro History Week in 1926 as a way to bring attention to the contributions of African-Americans to the life of the country. By the way, he chose the second week of February because it includes the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
February is also a significant because it's the month the 15th Amendment passed granting blacks - or black men, anyway - the right to vote. Now, Hispanic Heritage Month came along in 1968 - and black folks, don't get your feelings hurt - because the Hispanic Heritage observance started as a week, too. September 15th was chosen because it's the day five Latin-American countries celebrate their independence, with Mexico and Chile following on the 16th. It became a month-long observance 20 years later.
Asia and Pacific Islander heritage got a week in 1976. May was picked because Japanese immigrants first arrived in the U.S. on May 7th, 1843, and the Tarns-Continental railroad on which so many Chinese immigrants labored, was completed on May 10th, 1869. That week became a month in 1992. And Women's History Week got its start in 1981. March was picked because for some reason, March 8th is the International Women's Day, and Women's History Week went to a month in 1988.
Now, of course, some people are going to call all this divisive and separatist. And I say, get over it. It never killed anybody if you go to a museum or spend some class time learning about inventors and scholars and athletes from all different backgrounds. The way I look at it is we all get our birthdays celebrated, and nobody except the 2-yaear-old is mad when it somebody else's birthday and not his or hers. My only issue is this: I kind of like this whole month-long celebration thing. I think it's a fine idea. So for my birthday celebration this year, I'll settle for a week, but I prefer a month.
(Soundbite of music)
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.