In a recent blog post on The DailyKos, Denise Oliver Velez pointedly reminds us of the controversy about the continued relevance of Black History Month. “Each year,” Velez writes, “as we move into the month of February, which is Black (or African-American) History Month, once again there is a spate of news articles and blog posts about ‘why we don’t need it anymore’…”
But Velez calls our attention to the passionate educational imperative lying at the heart of this national tradition of remembrance and celebration. “‘The precursor to Black History Month was created in 1926… when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be ‘Negro History Week,’” she explains. Velez adds: “In his seminal work, The Mis-education of the Negro, Woodson said, ‘In our so-called democracy we are accustomed to give the majority what they want rather than educate them to understand what is best for them.’”
Velez also notes that the metamorphosis of Negro History Week into what we now call Black History Month was a more radical undertaking than some may realize: “… it was Black students at Kent State who were the impetus for a change in how Black history has been treated in the last 40-plus years… ‘and the first celebration of Black History Month took place at Kent State… in February 1970.’”
Regardless of the origins of Black History Month, however, we must each find our own answers to the question of why we need this commemorative month today. At the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF)–founded in 1940 under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall, later the nation’s first African-American Supreme Court Justice–we believe “the past is prologue,” and that knowledge of our historical struggle is vital to defending past gains and ensuring a truly inclusive society in the future.
As many know, LDF has a distinguished legacy as a leader in the fight for school desegregation and the ending of Jim Crow, the expansion of voting rights and political participation, the enlargement of economic opportunity for communities of color, and the reform of our criminal justice system.
But, despite past civil rights victories, we agree with Velez that, “The battle to preserve, disseminate, and educate our students and citizens about the history, ongoing struggles, and accomplishments of our Black citizens and other populations of color is not won….” We would add that, beyond the educational sphere, the battle for equality and justice in society at large is not yet won, either.
So, starting this week, on “Throwback Thursday” (#tbt)–and continuing on each of the following three Thursdays–LDF will reflect on four major civil rights battles, then and now: voting rights; police reform; desegregation and inclusion; and economic justice. Each week, we will glance back at LDF’s historic role in one of these issues and look ahead at the challenges we must confront today.
First week installment: Milestones in LDF’s Fight for Voter Equality
Second week installment: Important Moments in the Fight Against Unjust Policing and the Need for Police Reform