Nearly half a century after its release on what many people consider his most significant album, Stevie Wonder’s “Black Man” serves as a timeless reminder of why Black History Month is so important.
With a funky beat and thought-provoking lyrics, the song not only chronicles the exceptional contributions of African Americans and people of color, it also urges us to never lose sight of our history. Stevie spells it out plainly in this verse:
We pledge allegiance all our lives
To the magic colors red, blue, and white
But we all must be given
The liberty that we defend
For with justice not for all men
History will repeat again
It’s time we learned
This world was made for all men
This year Black History Month is an especially powerful reminder of all that African Americans have fought for—and what’s at stake if we don’t double down to protect civil rights and democracy itself.
What Is Black History Month?
Black History Month is an annual celebration of Black history and achievement. It’s officially celebrated in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
The roots of Black History Month go back to 1926, when Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson launched “Negro History Week” to celebrate Black achievement and history.
Woodson and prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland together established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (later renamed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, or ASALH), which still exists today and is the oldest organization to chronicle Black achievement and history in America.
In the early years, Black History Month was mainly focused on teaching students the forgotten or intentionally suppressed history of African Americans in the U.S., especially around the issues of racism and slavery.
Today Black History Month has expanded to not only acknowledge what African Americans have endured, but also to celebrate their contributions and leadership in America and around the world.
Why We Need Black History Month
We’re seeing a renewed assault on education by conservatives, who are fighting hard to ban books and curricula in schools that deal with race—including America’s history of slavery and the civil rights movement.
Banning critical race theory (which isn’t taught in K-12 schools) is the latest Republican obsession. It’s a thinly veiled attempt to eliminate any conversations about race that make white people uncomfortable, even as those same people claim to be the real victims of racism.
Black History Month is an opportunity to push back against attempts to suppress discussion of systemic racism in America. And it’s an opportunity to address the paltry coverage of Black history in so many schools.
It’s shocking that well into the 21st century most students still leave high school without an honest understanding of America’s history of slavery. According to a survey by Teaching Tolerance, just 8% of high school seniors could identify slavery as a central cause of the Civil War.
Studying Black history helps students understand that policies like the Civil Rights Act don’t automatically deliver equity. We’re still a deeply segregated society, and Black Americans fare worse in terms of wealth, health, opportunity, and rates of incarceration because of systemic racism.
Studying Black history helps us understand how failure to acknowledge our past reinforces the status quo and structures rooted in oppression.
Again, Stevie Wonder reminds us how important it is to remember.
Now I know the birthday of a nation
Is a time when a country celebrates
But as your hand touches your heart
Remember we all played a part in America
To help that banner wave
This is the importance of Black History Month.
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