Every year during the month of February, the USA observes Black History Month. This time is set aside in order that we, as a nation, take the time to celebrate, commemorate and pay tribute to the contributions, dynamics, energy, and direction offered by all of our African-American citizens of both the past and the present. For too long the accomplishments of this segment of our national heritage were often neglected and overlooked due to ignorance, fear and prejudice. Fortunately, in many places, that is no longer the case.
The Adinkra Symbol And Its Relevance
The sankofa adinkra symbol (above) is a representation of the ideal of learning from the past to build for the future. This symbol is fitting for Black History Month due to the denial and neglect that for so many centuries prohibited many African-Americans knowledge and appreciation not only of their heritage but their culture as well. This symbol, often featured in kente cloth patterns, is derived from the Akan tribes of West Africa, primarily located in what is now Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
In the Twi language of Ghana, sankofa translates as “go back and get it.” In relating to Black history here in the USA, it means to revisit the past to learn what has for many been forgotten or suppressed. The adinkra symbols are represent important proverbs, life lessons and philosophical ideas. Sankofa is artistically represented either through a stylized heart shape or by a bird with its head turned backward while its feet face forward carrying a precious egg in its mouth. The proverb depicted by the sankofa image is: “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.”
Black History Month Observances and Background
Black History Month observances began as a way for remembering important people and crucial events in the history of the African diaspora (dispersal or migration). As the African diaspora was often an involuntary action more than likely forced, many people were abducted from their homes, tribes and cultures and as a result, their heritage.
Black History Month is observed in both Canada and the USA during the month of February. It is observed during the month of October in the UK, the Netherlands and Ireland.
In the USA, the precursor to Black History Month began in 1926 when the noted African-American historian, Carter G. Woodson, (considered by many as the “father” of Black History Month, the son of former slaves and born in Buckingham County, Virginia) and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History designated the second week of February to be “Negro History Week.” This particular week was chosen because it contained the birthdates of both Abraham Lincoln (the Great Emancipator) on February 12, and of Frederick Douglass (the Great Abolitionist) on February 14. In the USA, Black communities had celebrated both dates together since the late 19th century.
On the first commemoration of Negro History Week in 1926, Carter G. Woodson offered that the teaching of Black history was essential to ensuring the intellectual and physical survival of the Black race within broader American society.
“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, ~ “Negro History Week” Journal of Negro History, vol. 11, no. 2, April, 1926
The first celebration of Negro History Week was met with limited success. It was endorsed by the state departments of education in Delaware, North Carolina and West Virginia and the municipal education departments of Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D.C. However, this limited success soon grew and by the end of the decade, it was endorsed by the educational departments of every state, numerous cities, the Black churches and other civic and philanthropic organizations.
The first celebration of Black History Month in the USA happened in 1970, originating on the campus of Kent State University. The previous year, 1969, the Black educators and the Black United Students at the university had sponsored a resolution calling for the observance of Black History Month (as opposed to Black History Week) beginning in 1970.
Soon, throughout the USA, educational institutions, churches and cultural organizations were observing Black History Month celebrations. During the 1976 Bicentennial commemorations in the country, then-President Gerald Ford, recognizing Black History Month, urged people to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Black History Month and ReNude Pride
Often I get asked, via email or the comments section that is at the bottom of every post, about the relationship between Black History Month and this site, ReNude Pride. For many, the answer is obvious. I was a history major as a university undergraduate and history is a part of my own story, regardless of who, where and what it entails. Secondly, and this again is obvious to all who regularly read ReNude Pride, my spouse, Aaron, is one of the sons of Black Canadians. As he was born in this country and his parents were both grandchildren of escaped slaves who fled to Canada, he’s African-American. We are legally married, so his story becomes a part of mine, and vice-versa.
For Aaron and myself, together, “our” story becomes both African-American and Greek, same gender loving (gay) and bare practicing (naturist or nudist). It is also Deaf (myself) and hearing (Aaron). It includes the both of us as well as our extended natural families. After all, we are all who and what we are.
As for ReNude Pride, the plans are in motion to feature another posting here that addresses the topic of Black gay nudity. Last year I published a series of photographs of African-American men bare from the recent past. I’m combining the series of posts into one feature exhibit and have tentatively scheduled publication for Friday, February 8, 2019.
Virginia and Black History Month, 2019
Aaron and I live in Arlington, Virginia, USA. This year, 2019, is one of significance in Virginia history as it commemorates the 400th anniversary (1619) of the founding of the colonial legislative assembly, the House of Burgesses – which since has evolved into the state legislature, now referred to as the General Assembly. This was the first forerunner of all the colonial legislatures in the original Thirteen British colonies that eventually became the USA.
Another first happened during the same year although its occurrence was accompanied by tragedy and untold suffering. 1619 was the same year that the first slave ships arrived from Africa in what is now the USA bringing with them human cargo destined to suffer inhuman conditions, enforced enslavement and countless indignities before attaining their freedom three centuries later. Even the freedom won more than a century ago didn’t bring equality and human rights until massive civil rights protests culminated almost sixty years ago and the struggle continues even until this day.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (Democrat) recently proclaimed 2019 as the Year of Reconciliation and Civility. The purpose, as explained by the Governor, is to “talk about what is good about our history – the pursuit of liberty – and what was not so good – the pursuit of enslavement.”
A bi-partisan bill was introduced to the Virginia General Assembly during its current session for the legislature to join the executive (Governor) in recognizing the Year of Reconciliation and Civility and to open dialogues and public forums to address concerns. The bill has been received and forwarded to subcommittees for consideration and recommendations.
Black History Month: Beyond Racial Identity
Black History Month is an event that focuses attention on the exploration, investigation and commemoration of the contributions, energies and sacrifices of African-Americans toward our collective national story. As such, its observance transcends ethnicity and race and becomes threads that weave together to form an American tapestry – a complete study of our shared heritage and ideals. Black History Month thus is a time for reflection on our united desire and dream to fulfill our legacies and celebrate our common experiences.
Black History Month isn’t without its critics, even within the African-American community. The esteemed Black award-winning actor, Morgan Freeman, has observed: “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.”
For additional resources on Black History Month, please click on one or all of the links below:
Happy USA Black History Month, 2019!
The sankofa Adinkra symbol for Black History Month.