Why Black History Month is more important than ever this year?

What is Black History Month?

The story of Black History Month begins in 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. The Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, an organisation dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by black Americans and other peoples of African descent.

Known as ‘father of black history’, Carter G. Woodson set out to challenge the preconception that ‘the negro has no history’. Now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History are a vital part of the preservation of black history and raising awareness on the importance of understanding race and society. Over the years, this inaugural celebration has grown into a month of teaching, recognition and celebration of the history, accomplishments and contributions that black people have made within the western world, whilst highlighting the challenges black people face in today’s world.  

‘If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated’

Carter G.Woodson

When is it celebrated?

Black History Month (BHM) is celebrated in different months throughout the year, across the globe:

  • The US celebrate BHM in February in line with the birthdays of former US President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglas fall within this month. First officially recognised in 1976, President Gerald Ford called upon the American public to use BHM to: ‘seize the opportunity to honour the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavour throughout our history’
  • Canada then recognised February as BHM in 1995
  • Currently in the UK, BHM is celebrated every October, but was first celebrated in 1987 through an event organised by Ghanian born Akyaaba Addai-Sebo
  • The annual observance is also commemorated in other parts of Europe during October, including Ireland and Netherlands.

Why we need to celebrate it?

2020 has held a mirror up to the world and forced many to see the reality of racism in all its guises. From black people dying disproportionately in the pandemic, to the horrific murder of George Floyd and no justice for Breonna Taylor – the 26-year-old emergency medical worker killed by police in her own home.

During the coronavirus lockdown, in the UK, the scale and impact of institutionalised racism has been laid bare, with young Black men stopped and searched 20,000 times in London, along with Black MPs, barristers, senior police officers, sportspeople and many more.

#BlackLivesMatter protest around the world sparked a commitment among many individuals and organisations to educate themselves about Black History, Heritage and Culture – as part of understanding racism and standing in solidarity against it.

This year in the UK the theme for Black History Month is ‘Dig Deeper, Look Closer, Think Bigger’ and it is commemorated across the country through various events such as Heritage Tours, Online Courses, digital storytelling and more.

Crucially, this year’s BHM is a time to shine a light on the shared British history and tell the story honestly and truthfully, to decolonise and reclaim history, and tell storied from the perspective of all people.

Black History Month 2020 is a time for people to come together and hopefully learn lessons for the present and the future. It is a time to honour the commitment to learning and standing united against racism.

Helpful resources:


Reading list:

Freedom Is A Constant Struggle by Angela Davis

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Inglorious Empire: What The British Did To India by Shashi Tharoor

Beloved by Toni Morrison

If you have been affected by issues of racism and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact Stop Hate UK by visiting their website www.stophateuk.org/talk

Written by Ioana Gaicea

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