Column: Black History Month is still necessary

Without a month of recognition, civil rights leaders could be forgotton.

Before he was known for spazzing out in interviews and becoming the latest “K” in the Kardashian clan, Kanye West made a simple rhyme about the state of racial history in America on a 2006 track called “Brand New” by fellow Chicago rapper Rhymefest.

After typical Kanye-style boasting in the first six bars, the emcee spit the following: “I state the stats to stunt, I don't need to front/Make black history every day, I don't need a month.”

After recognizing the terrific wordplay by West, it is important to compare what he said eight years ago to the state of the month-long celebration today. In the past few years, there have been numerous articles written about the necessity of Black History Month. Writer and director Shukree Hassan Tilghman has led a campaign since 2010 that seeks to end the celebration recognized by the U.S. government since 1976. Tilghman, who is black, has even walked around city streets wearing a board that reads “End Black History Month,” according to a 2012 New York Times article.

Tilghman – and West, to a lesser extent – is both right and wrong when it comes to whether or not America should still spend a month recognizing and remembering those who fought and still fight for equality for black people.

On one hand, why should the observance of black history be restricted to one month of the year? Is black history not a part of American history in general? Why the separation? These are almost unanswerable questions that loom over a nation still feeling the effects of centuries of slavery and legal racial discrimination.

But what if Black History Month were ended? Would the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the Jim Crow South be integrated into K-12 curricula alongside the signings of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution? How easy would it be for school districts across the nation, like the Texas Board of Education, to attempt to downplay the civil rights movement and other controversial eras in American history?

Just this past summer, the Supreme Court struck down Section Four of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the provision that allowed the federal government to regulate which states, including Texas, could make changes to its voting laws.

In 2011, MU even had to create a diversity initiative, One Mizzou, just to combat overt and lazy racism on campus (see here and here. It took MU until 1948 to admit its first black student and another 63 years to finally take the time to make sure those students felt comfortable on campus.

Due to a lack of understanding of a black student’s plight at MU, it would be all too easy for racist events to rear their ugly heads again in future semesters. On a national scale, the history of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, both landmark pieces of legislation, would probably only be recognized every 50 years when an anniversary date approached.

The civil rights leaders would be forgotten, too.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks are arguably the only remnants of the civil rights era. King is mostly remembered for a snippet of his speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Parks is only remembered for refusing to give up her seat on a bus.

Black History Month gives people of all colors the opportunity to learn about leaders like A. Philip Randolph who, in 1941, organized what was supposed to be the first March on Washington. Randolph’s threat of 100,000 people descending on the nation’s capital – during World War II, no less – led President Roosevelt to sign Executive Order 8802, which ended racial discrimination in the defense industry and federal government jobs.

Even Dr. Carter Woodson might be forgotten without Black History Month, and he was the person who founded the concept of the celebration, creating Negro History Week in 1926. Fifty years later, Negro History Week became Black History Month. But that all could become history (pun intended) if 28 days are not dedicated to black antiquity.

So, while there could be more done to incorporate black history into the other 11 months of the year, Black History Month is still as necessary today as it was in 1976 or 1926.

At the same time, black people should be more like Kanye West and make black history every day so there can be no doubt that the celebration of black culture is still important, whether it is February or not.

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