February marks the start of Black History Month, a federally recognized, nationwide celebration that calls on all Americans to reflect on the significant roles that African Americans have played in shaping US history. But does one ever wonder how did this celebration came to be or why does it happen in February?
Carter G. Woodson, the son of former slaves and a pioneer in the study of African American history, is given much of the credit for Black History Month. Disturbed that history textbooks largely ignored America’s black population, Woodson took on the challenge of writing black Americans into the nation’s history.
Woodson spent his childhood working in coal mines and quarries. He received his education during the four-month term that was customary for black schools at the time. At 19, having taught himself English fundamentals and arithmetic, Woodson entered high school, where he completed a four-year curriculum in two years. He graduated from Berea College in 1903 and went on to earn his master’s degree in history from the University of Chicago. He later earned a doctorate from Harvard.
To do this, he established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. He also founded the group’s widely respected publication, the Journal of Negro History.
In 1926, Woodson developed Negro History Week. He believed “the achievements of the Negro properly set forth will crown him as a factor in early human progress and a maker of modern civilization.”
In 1976, Negro History Week expanded into Black History Month. Woodson chose the second week of February for his celebration because it marks the birthdays of two men who greatly influenced the black American population,
- • Frederick Douglass, who escaped slavery and became an abolitionist and civil rights leader; though his birthdate is not known, he celebrated it on February 14.
- • President Abraham Lincoln, who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which abolished slavery in America’s confederate states; he was born on February 12.
For his work, Woodson has been called the Father of Black History.
In 1987, Governor Ned Ray McWherther handed down a declaration to each county to recognize Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday. Margaret Knight-White was assigned the task by Wesley Beal, a former County Executive, to organize an event to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr birthday. Thus, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Steering Committee was formed for Carroll County.
Each year, the MLK Steering Committee host a Black History Program in the month of February to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday. During the program, the Committee recognizes local educators, youths with high academic achievements, business owners, local poets, playwriters, praise dancers, and choirs. The program features prominent black leaders as guest speakers. The speakers include leaders such as Judge Joe Brown, State Representatives Lois DeBerry and Johnny Shaw, Dr. Helen Owens, Richard Donnell, Gloria Sweetlove, Dexter Williams, and Jackie Webster as well as many other local African American mentors.
Current members of the MLK Steering Committee are: Mavis Curtis (Chairperson), Rose Glenn (Co-Chairperson), Neal Williamson (Treasurer), Melinda Quisenberry (Secretary), Natalie Porter, Kimberly Bell-Webb, Gina Atkins, Ruby Hillsman, and Lina McClerkin.
In observance of Black History Month, the MLK Steering Committee would like to share a poem written and recited by Amanda Gorman on Inauguration Day 2021:
The Hill We Climb
When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. We’ve braved the belly of the beast, We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what just isn’t always just-ice. And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow we do it. Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished. We the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one. And yes we are far from polished. Far from pristine. But that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect. We are striving to forge a union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man. And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside. We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. We seek harm to none and harmony for all. Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true, that even as we grieved, we grew, that even as we hurt, we hoped, that even as we tired, we tried, that we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division. Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid. If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade. But in all the bridges we’ve made, that is the promise to glade, the hill we climb. If only we dare. It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit, it’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it. Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy. And this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us. This is the era of just redemption we feared at its inception. We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour but within it we found the power to author a new chapter. To offer hope and laughter to ourselves. So while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe? Now we assert, How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us? We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be. A country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free. We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation, because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation. Our blunders become their burdens. But one thing is certain, If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy, and change our children’s birthright. So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left with. Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one. We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west. We will rise from the windswept northeast, where our forefathers first realized revolution. We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states. We will rise from the sunbaked south. We will rebuild, reconcile and recover. And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful will emerge, battered and beautiful. When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid, the new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.