Originally created in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, Black History Month was known as “Negro History Week.” In 1976, it became a month-long holiday and February was chosen to sync up with Frederick Douglass’ and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays. February is a time to celebrate Black culture, Black creatives, and most importantly, Black excellence.
While the month is dedicated to the specific celebration of Black history, Black history and Black contributions are continuously being made. As we move through this month, it’s important to recognize and bring light to topics that people may not have heard about or learned in their history classes. It’s also important to recognize that while Black history is called out as a separate, or elective, history – Black history is U.S. history.
Too often when we discuss Black history, we discuss the trauma as if Black communities don’t have any other history than trauma. While understanding and learning of those traumas is important, Black history is way more than slavery, brutality, and loss. True Black history is a story of resilience, innovation, and lots of courage.
Throughout time, Black inventors and creatives have been responsible for many everyday constructions. From classic American snacks like potato chips, created by George Crum, to safety features we use every day such as the three-light traffic light created by Garrett Morgan, Black creatives have constantly worked to provide society with impactful, and innovative inventions. To learn more about the many Black contributions to America and American culture, take some time to visit dailyhive.com/seattle/inventions-by-black-people. What you find just might surprise you!
In addition to everyday use items, Black figures have also made several contributions to the medical field and medical advancement. While we hear stories of Henrietta Lacks and so many other Black individuals who were taken advantage of in health care, there are also some prominent figures that have helped provide better health access as well. Without figures such as Charles Drew, M.D. who discovered a new usage of blood plasma and is known as the “father of blood banking,” the world of blood transfusions may not have been as advanced as we see it today. Without women like Jane Wright, M.D. the advancement of cancer treatment medication may not have been as effective.
More often than not, we hear about the prominent male figures in Black history, but rarely do we hear about the women. But I challenge you to research some of these Black women who changed the game and pushed bounds and continuously fight to change traditional narrative of Black contributions and Black people. For example, during the 19th and 20th centuries, Black women had a challenging, but key role in suffrage and universal voting rights. As Black women, there is a constant burden of being both Black and a woman when it comes to fighting for human rights. The suffrage movement was a great depiction of the struggles and work put in by Black leaders to ensure voices were heard for their communities. The work done by Black women such as Mary Church Terrel, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and Harriet Tubman is what propelled the suffrage movement to empower other women such as Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and Charlotte Forten Grimke to found the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in 1896, pushing the motto “lifting as we climb” to reflect their goal to continuously “uplift” the status of Black women. These efforts eventually led up to Voting Rights Act that was passed in 1965 which brought forth more equitable voting laws.
As we look into the last several decades, we can acknowledge some great accomplishments from several household names such as Oprah, Serena Williams, Simone Biles, and Michelle Obama who have taught us how to love and appreciate the bodies we are in; who showed millions of young Black girls that with hard work and dedication, anything is possible!
We also must take the time to recognize names such as Marsai Martin, who has made huge waves in the film industry just at the young age of 14. Or Stacey Abrams, who constantly empowers Black communities to be active and engaged in elections to help influence positive change in their communities. Or Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, who was vital in the quick response and development of the COVID-19 vaccine. People like brigade commander Sydney Barber, who leads 4,500 midshipmen in daily brigade activities. Or Misty Copeland, the ballerina that reminds Black girls that personal expression can come in many forms and its okay to be delicate. Or Mickey Guyton, who reminds Black individuals that they don’t have to exist just in the realm of pre-existing stereotypes or typical narratives that are placed on Black communities. All these names remind us that while past history was focused on increasing access and fighting for civil rights – and that fight will always continue – current history is moving toward increasing representation and changing narratives.
Whether you are Black or not, Black History Month is a way to engage and broaden your knowledge around American history! Black history is still being made every day and while you may not have been aware of all the historical contributions that Black individuals have made, now is the time to engage, listen, and learn about a part of history that is rarely discussed. Challenge yourself, and your peers, to read and listen to the stories that are told and seek out those that are hidden. Black history is so much more than the traumas endured – Black history is ever evolving.
If you’re looking for a place to start your own Black history research, check out the following links!