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home : opinions : columns August 20, 2014

1/31/2013 5:00:00 PM
TIMES EDITORIAL: Understanding the importance of Black History Month

Thirty-seven years after the President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation officially honoring February as Black History Month, and nearly 100 years after this great country of ours began Negro Achievement Week, which was still 50 years after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed America's slaves - historians, African-Americans and regular citizens are still defending the purpose of this month.

Black History Month was established to pay homage to people who had been oppressed and unrecognized in their achievements to the United States and the world. Accomplishments that for centuries, were credited to other people or never attributed to the blacks who had also paved their way as American citizens.

The roots of Black History Month began in 1915 when Dr. Carter G. Woodson attended a 50-year emancipation ceremony in Chicago. It was here that Woodson got the idea to form a group, Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), a scientific study of blacks.

During his exploration into the history of blacks, Woodson and other black scholars discovered many accomplishments in history that were unknown (and untaught) to society. Using ASNLH as the anchor in 1924, Woodson pushed for the creation of Negro History and Literature Week, later renaming it Negro Achievement Week. Woodson hoped that unveiling the role that blacks played in history would help inspire other blacks and the population as a whole, pushing everyone to achieve even more.

February was chosen to host the week due to the historical days that the month possessed; two of the most revered people to blacks in history up to that time, had birthdays in the month; Abraham Lincoln on the 12th and Frederick Douglass on the 14th.

The week of celebration, which by the mid-1920s was referred to as Negro History Week, took ground and began to be unofficially recognized in schools and in cities nationwide.

Educators, communities and churches began to teach of the hidden history that for many years had gone unnoticed (or ignored).

Students and the country as a whole began to learn about blacks in history beyond Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and contributors such as Lincoln. People learned that Elijah McCoy invented an oil-dripping cup for trains and had it patented in 1898. McCoy's invention was duplicated but never perfected. Companies looking for the product tried using other oil-dripping cups but they reportedly didn't match the efficiency of McCoy's, causing customers to deem his product as "The Real McCoy."

Working alongside Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, it was Lewis Lattimer who invented the carbon filament that goes in a light bulb in 1882. He was Edison's original draftsman and the only black member of Edison Principles, Edison's engineering division.

Jan Ernst Matzeliger is the person responsible for a shoemaking machine that increased productivity from 150 shoes a day to being able to manufacture 700 shoes in a day. The patent, awarded in 1883, was so complex in its design that the patent office in Washington, D.C. sent a reviewer to Massachusetts to meet with Matzeliger and see the machine in person.

The modern traffic light and the first gas mask was the brainchild of Garrett Augustus Morgan, an Ohio sewing-machine repairman.

Other inventions and contributions to everyday life can be attributed to Granville T. Woods (train-to-train communications), George Washington Carver (peanut butter), Daniel Hale Williams (heart surgery), and so many more. The list is astounding with the many contributions that blacks have played in our lives. But it is these inventions that were ignored and overlooked for so long.

It isn't just inventions that were ignored, groups of people were dismissed as "not as important." During the Civil War, black infantry were segregated to their own units. It has been reported that approximately 179,000 black men served in the Army and 19,000 were in the Navy. Many more served as carpenters, chaplains, guards, nurses, scouts, spies, surgeons and cooks. Out of all the numbers who served or supported the Civil War, only 16 Medal of Honors were awarded to blacks. During the war, blacks received $10 to serve, minus $3 that went to clothing, receiving only $7 for the same fight that their white counterparts performed and received $13 for with no clothing allowance.

When World War I came around, blacks entered into the trenches to fight for patriotism, but they were allowed in small numbers into the U.S. Navy and served in the U.S. Army in four segregated units, 24th and 25th Infantry and the 9th and 10th Cavalry. These men were mainly sent to guard the Mexican border or made to be support troops to the other units who were fighting. It was the 92nd and 93rd Divisions who saw combat due to being sent to fight alongside the French. The 369th Infantry Regiment (Harlem Hellfighters) never surrendered Allied territory and never lost a soldier in battle. The Harlem Hellfighters received their accolades from the French in the way of the Croix de Guerre or Legions of Merit honors.

The accomplishments achieved by African Americans listed is just a small example of the role that blacks played, and this is all before the 1930s. Since then blacks have continued to contribute to society. There is Dr. Charles Drew, who pioneered the first blood bank in 1940; Otis Boykin who invented electronic devices in 1959 that were used for guided missiles and the pacemaker; Dr. Patricia Bath, who came up with an eye surgery that restored sight to the blind, and Lonnie Johnson, who introduced the world to the Supersoaker.

Again, blacks have provided many more contributions to the world and they continue to do so on a daily basis.

The sad truth about Black History Month is that it was a necessity a century ago to recognize the people who were forgotten in this country. It continues to be a necessity due to the reality that much of the history is being lost to the belief that "it is no longer important."

The month is to be used to remind and educate the world that the United States of America is a country of shared existence and history. Black History Month was not created to lift one race above another; it was created to remind the country that it took the entire nation, regardless of race, to make the United States of America.

Many may be "wowed" by the revelations put forth today and others may still not get the importance of the month, but it is our hope that people everywhere can understand that each and everyone of us has the potential to contribute positively to our society.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Article comment by: Well Written

This is a well written article and still the ignorant can't understand what the meaning of Black History Month stands for. Sometimes it's hard to educate the ignorant.

Posted: Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Article comment by: EL PICA BUYAS

E.McGillicutty. hundred years from now other people will be having this same discussion on this same subject. Why because people never learn. Just blame it all on Politico Correctness.

Posted: Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Article comment by: Right ON!

El Pica And Mr. Mcgillcutty are Right ON! Thank you for your posts!

Posted: Monday, February 4, 2013
Article comment by: Eddy McGillicutty

EL PICA, you also never hear them discuss those who sold their own people to the slave traders. Back then, the muslims were the ones that controlled the slave trade off the Barbary Coast. Nobody dare talk negatively about them.

Posted: Monday, February 4, 2013
Article comment by: virginia zarp

@ PVVT editorial staff: Thank you for the well written, informative historical piece on Black History Month. I enjoyed learning about the contributions that these citizens made to our country's history. History month's that focus on the contributions of specific groups are reminders that many diverse ethnic,cultural and religious groups contributed to the development of our country and should be recognized, especially if said groups were discriminated against in the past. Everyone is entitled to glean what they want from this article. I think this was a positive article.

Posted: Monday, February 4, 2013
Article comment by: EL PICA BUYAS

@ Ignorance, Again thank your for putting the Black Minority back into a box away from the rest of society. So how do you expect a minority to compete with the rest of society, when you yourself handicap them at the start. The way, I read you is, that you think all minorities are being oppressed. That in itself creates racism and it makes the oppressed party lash-out at the white devil. I for one being a minority that will soon be the majority. I never subscribed to that thing that you got have quotas in the work force, be it brown, black or female. So What's next Gay and Lesbians Month. Many Whites lost their lives to free people from slavery. Do you hear Reverend Jackson or Reverend Al Sharpton or that crazy Reverend that Obama disowned. Do you hear them praise the white people that lost their lives to free the people from slavery? All I hear from them is that the white devil has oppressed them for ages and it's time to raise up and take control. That is what you get when you divide people into categories of race. It's them and us against each other.

Posted: Monday, February 4, 2013
Article comment by: Eddy McGillicutty

Hey everybody, haven't you been following the news? The story from last week said that by 2016 whites would be the minority and Hispanics the majority here in beautiful California. Only in America do we celebrate Cinco de Mayo and it isn't even considered a holiday in Mexico.

Posted: Sunday, February 3, 2013
Article comment by: Ignorance at its best

The comments in reference to Black History Month are sad. Your comments are proof that the world has not advanced much farther than the 60's. According to you, the rich history of Americans, African Americans, should be ignored because you all say that people should get over slavery and that racism has all but disappeared. Whether the people realize it or not but you have proven that this is the reason that Black History Month and all the other traditions that honor minorities should be lauded and celebrated. Only the pure ignorant fails to recognize that it isn't about making one race better than another, it is meant to congratulate all of those who have participated in history.

Posted: Sunday, February 3, 2013
Article comment by: Piece of Trash

P.S. You are also blaming your own well-paid board, for goodness' sake! Oh, that a board would really have full authority, but this one, with your puppet strings, have no more "authority" than a pot-hole in the middle of our streets. And WE know it, even if you don't.

Posted: Saturday, February 2, 2013
Article comment by: And I agree

Stop the race baiting! The news and everyone love to throw everyone's race into a news article. Race has no relevance unless YOU bring it up. No more black history month. You are saying we are all different. You are separating Americans by putting blacks @ there own month. The media is still segregating and separating Blacks into there own month and treating them different. If I was black I would be outraged. I would want to be treated as every other red blooded American. Save the "special" for some other people that need your pity!!!

Posted: Saturday, February 2, 2013
Article comment by: Seems to be the Reason

To all the negative people commenting on this story. It seems the meaning of this article was addressed to you. I did not read any glorifying of slavery or racism. El Pica is actually right, it is meant to honor the people who are forgotten as a part of AMERICAN history. But it is still hard to forget the color of ones skin when every government agency asks for the race when filling out any legal document. Every month is a celebration of American history but it is the minorities that go unrecognized and that's the reason for Black History Month. Besides from my own experience, it is mainly people from the superior race that miss out that the rest of the population is underrepresented.

Posted: Saturday, February 2, 2013
Article comment by: Sun Is Shining

And over here, too! The issue of slavery is over. It was a terrible blight on this country for years, but it is over. We must go ahead and make sure it is dead for good, and be very cautious about stirring the pot forever. Both groups, I am saying. One groups says/does something stupid, and the other, cries "racism". Thank God for Lincoln, and others, who tried to erase that hate. The Civil War was fought in vain, if we contine this ungodly, senseless fight. You have relatives who fought, and so do I. We both lost people. That matters, but if it really matters to all of us, then we must bury the dead and move on in peace. Don't let this President, et. al. destroy one of the best things that has been done in this country.

Posted: Saturday, February 2, 2013
Article comment by: EL PICA BUYAS

@J. Blahh. That's problem here. All they are doing is pulling the scab off a cut. When they do that, they do not see how far America has come. All they see is what happen back then. So, all they are doing in this is inciting hate. Hispanic month, black month and so-forth they dividing all of us into groups of people. just like the haves and the do not have. Do you know that in most country's. The people with dark skin are treated diffidently or like low class citizens. So if I'm a light skin Mexican, I'm better than the Dark skin me. The same with Asians. Even other light Skin Blacks make fun of Dark Skin Blacks. Racism is every where even within our own group (Race) of people. Like, Get Over Yourself, said why not just Americans. As individuals and not by race. Like saying El Pica Buyas is a smart, brave and a great Mexican. Why not just say is a great person. But, Mexican. I was born here in the USA. I'm just a great American. Yes I'm tooting my horn.

Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013
Article comment by: Jenine Blahh

WoW get over YOURSELF! Some people just dont get it. Black History Month is held to HONOR the people that were slaves and struggled though those terrible years. Duuh we know that slavery is not happening now but its nice to remember and pay tribute to those that did. I agree that there should be an American History Month, that would be great! But the rest of that comment was pretty pointless. Nearly all holidays are made in rememberance of someone, should we cancel all hoildays????

Posted: Friday, February 1, 2013
Article comment by: Get Over Yourself!

Racism at its finest... Its that time of the year again.... where everyone has to remind you that they are Black! NEWSFLASH! NO ONE CARES! You are Black! Wonderful.... Get over yourself. No one cares! NO one today has owned a slave and no one today is or has been a slave. Frederick Douglas was a great man period! Not because he is black, white, chinese or Eskimo... He was simply a great Man PERIOD! QUIT bringing RACE into EVERY conversation! It should NOT or ever be Black History Month.....Or White History Month! How about AMERICAN History MONTH!!!! Frederick Douglas would agree! This is what he fought against! He just wanted to be treated as an AMERICAN!

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