February has been Black History Month since 1976 when Gerald R. Ford asked Americans to seize the opportunity to honor black history.
The switch took place in the bicentennial year of the U.S., exactly 50 years after Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard graduate and a historian, created the first Negro History Week in February of 1926 – a week chosen because it included the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
According to the government-run African-American History Month website, that week in February became an integral piece of black life by Woodson’s death in 1950.
By that time, significant leaps had been made in the effort to bring awareness and appreciation to all Americans, and cities were claiming that week as Negro History Week.
During what the site calls “The Black Awakening” of the 1960s, black Americans became more aware of the importance of black history and took action, rallying with Americans of all races to bring equality through the Civil Rights movement.
Today, Murray State’s Black Student Council is seizing the chance to share black history with the slogan “Living the Dream: Remembering the Legacy by Inspiring Future Leaders.”
The festivities planned by The Black Student Council were kicked off Jan. 19 with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Candlelight Vigil and march, and end April 4 with the 9th Annual Diversity Achievement Awards. The ceremony will recognize Murray State students for academic achievement and contributions to diversity.
Activities include a community potluck and a showing of the film “12 Years A Slave,” which has been nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and a cultural leadership and empowerment conference led by Mark L. McPhail from University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
For Chesika Crump, junior from Hopkinsville, Ky., Black History Month is yet another way students on campus can uplift their black peers.
“For me personally, Black History Month is a month of celebration of the achievements of black people as a part of history,” Crump said. “It’s a remembrance of those who have sacrificed time and lives for the freedoms of black people today, and reflection on the progress and issues of the black community.”
The activities on campus, put on by the Black Student Council and the Office of Multicultural Affairs have mission statements with a similar goal: to embrace diversity and encourage minority student groups to succeed both personally and academically.
Crump said it is important, however, to remember that black history is not just restricted to February alone.
“It should be noted that celebration of these histories should not be thought of as one month of recognition, but daily recognition,” Crump said. “Every day should be a celebration of black history and women’s history, as well for other groups as well. I know it is for me.”
Kadeem Willis, junior from Paris, Tenn., said he knows black history is important knowledge to have, but more important is to be free of racism. To him, giving black history a month aids racism – it gives preferential treatment to only one group of people who have endured hardship when there are many others who have dealt with worse.
“It’s not all about black people,” Willis said. “History should be about all people. Mexicans, Jews … they don’t have their own month for their history, and more Jews died (in the Holocaust) than black people. There are still people in slavery, but they don’t get a month.”
Morgan Priddy, a senior from Paducah, Ky., said she is glad the month gives people awareness.
“I’m just really glad people are aware,” Priddy said. “It’s important for people to understand and recognize that black Americans have had an impact on U.S. history, but also that they don’t just see the race.”
According to Priddy, the best way to share black history is not restricted to events put on by the Black Student Council. Word-of-mouth is also good, but Priddy said she worries, as a black woman, about turning people off to black history if she brings it up in conversation. She said another, less invasive way, is through social media.
“Twitter’s used to share opinions about anything and everything, but it can be used also for information and facts,” Priddy said.
The Black Student Council and the Office of Multicultural Affairs both push for the spread of knowledge on campus. Social media, lectures, films and panels are the avenues through which they work to extend that knowledge.
Story by Amanda Grau, Staff writer