Carter G. Woodson

Within the next few days, America and its schools will celebrate Black History Month. And they will act like they’ve fulfilled their obligation of racial inclusion and enlightened education. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Americans don’t give a damn about Black folks and their history If they did, they would’ve infused our history not only into American history but also into world history. To “infuse” means to systemically include, which in turn means to talk about, write about, and teach historic Black topics everyday like they do regarding historic white topics.

How did Black History Month begin in America?

It’s foundation was laid when Dr. Carter G. Woodson -later recognized as the “Father of Black History”- was a student at Harvard University where, in 1912, he became the first person of enslaved parents to receive a Ph.D. from that elite Ivy League school. During a lecture there one day, one of his white professors, Edward Channing, stated that “the Negro had no history.”

This contention was widespread at the time throughout America’s educational system. But on that day, hearing it from the mouth of an instructor at America’s leading university, Dr. Woodson was propelled to do something about it. So after expanding his own extensive research, he connected with four Black men. And on September 9, 1915 in Chicago following inspiration from that city’s national celebration of the 50th anniversary of emancipation, which highlighted the impressive progress of Blacks since their enslavement, those five founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). It was renamed the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH) in 1972 and is now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Its mission as “the premiere Black Heritage and learned society” is to “promote, research, preserve, interpret, and disseminate information about Black life, history, and culture to the global community.”

To that end, among several other enlightening projects throughout the decade, Dr. Woodson and ASNLH publicly announced Negro History Week in 1925 and first celebrated it in February 1926. Although many believe that Dr. Woodson and ASNLH chose February because Abe Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were born in that month, that’s only part of the reason.

The complete reason is what he described as tradition. He recognized that ever since Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 and ever since Douglass’ death in 1895, Black folks had begun commemorating the work, and as a result the birthday, of those two historic men. Accordingly, in order to reap the benefits of a pre-existing Negro issue-related popularity, Dr. Woodson decided to merge into what was already a celebratory and prideful time for African Americans. It went from Negro History Week to Black History Week in 1972 and then Black History Month in 1976.

A little known fact about Negro History Week is that, as noted by ASALH, Dr. Woodson “never viewed black history as a one week affair. He pressed for schools to use Negro History Week to demonstrate what students learned all year. It was in this sense that Blacks would learn of their past on a daily basis that he looked forward to the time when an annual celebration would no longer be necessary.”

Also, he “believed that Black history was too important to America and the world to be crammed into a limited time frame. He spoke of a shift from Negro History Week to Negro History Year.”

If there was a Black History Year, Americans each day would learn a lot of enlightening facts about us. For example, they would learn that Africans were the first humans on this planet beginning 200,000 years ago, that those Black folks were in the Nile Valley region of East Africa, and that it was not until 170,000 years later- which was only 30,000 ago- that the first white human being came into existence and did so in the Caucasus Mountain area (in southern Russia).

Furthermore, Americans would learn that geometry, calculus, and algebra were invented by Africans, namely Tacokoma, Tishome, and Ahmes respectively.

Moreover, they would learn that Lewis Latimer, the son of parents who had escaped slavery, was an inventor, draftsman, engineer, and scientist, as well as an author, poet, musician, and philanthropist. It is a little known fact that he is the person who actually drew the blueprints for Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone in 1878.

Three years later, in 1881, he and assistant Joseph Nichols were the first persons to receive a patent for the direct forerunner to today’s commonly used light bulb.

Prior to this, the electric lamp by Thomas Edison and others had no real practical use because it could not emit light for an extended period. But the new light bulb by Latimer (with assistant Nichols) used a revolutionary method of manufacturing carbon filaments that produced light for effectively extended periods.

In addition, it is quite interesting that he was the original draftsman for Edison (inventor of the 1879 temporary electric lamp) who relied on Latimer as the expert witness in Edison’s patent infringement suit.

It was because of this ingenious invention that Latimer was asked by numerous countries, states, and cities- including Philadelphia- to write an instruction manual (which he did in 1890) and to supervise the installation of incandescent light plants.

Black History Month must be transformed into Black History Day so we all can learn these kinds of things. Not only must it be done by America and its school system but more important by Black folks. Let’s start in the next few days on February 1. And let’s do our Black education thing everyday just like Dr. Woodson wanted.

Michael Coard, Esquire can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. His “Radio Courtroom” show can be heard on WURD96.1-FM. And his “TV Courtroom” show can be seen on PhillyCam/Verizon/Comcast.

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