Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2024 Issue

The History of Black History Month and Some Virtual Tidbits

February is Black History Month, lots to see and do, both online and in-person.

Every February America celebrates Black History Month. In the past few years there have been increasingly organized efforts to suppress, distort and even criminalize the teaching of Black history. But despite the twists and turns of the culture wars, there is more Black history than ever before on the Internet and in live events around the country.

 

If you’re searching for a place to begin look no further than Black History month, government exhibits and collections which lists dozens of virtual experiences and detailed references.

 

This web portal is a collaborative project of the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. 

 

The site introduction briefly describes the evolution of Black History Month, which began in 1925 as Negro History Week.

 

It quotes an essay by Daryl Michael Scott, of Howard University, who wrote, “Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, like W. E. B. Du Bois before him, believed that truth could not be denied and that reason would prevail over prejudice. His hopes to raise awareness of African Americans contributions to civilization was realized when he and the organization he founded, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), conceived and announced Negro History Week in 1925.

 

The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The response was overwhelming: Black history clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive whites, not simply white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort.

 

By the time of Woodson's death in 1950, Negro History Week had become a central part of African American life and substantial progress had been made in bringing more Americans to appreciate the celebration. At mid–century, mayors of cities nationwide issued proclamations noting Negro History Week.

 

The Black Awakening of the 1960s dramatically expanded the consciousness of African Americans about the importance of Black history, and the Civil Rights movement focused Americans of all colors on the subject of the contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.

 

The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation's bicentennial. President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to ‘seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.’

 

That year, fifty years after the first celebration, the association held the first Black History Month. By this time, the entire nation had come to recognize the importance of Black history in the drama of the American story. Since then each American president has issued Black History Month proclamations. And the association—now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH)—continues to promote the study of Black history all year.”

There is so much listed here, that it would take a reader far more than a month to go through it all. RBH browsed some of the links to find a few specific items we thought readers would find of interest.

 

Here are some timely links:

 

Not long ago there was a movie about the Green Book, a directory of safe places for black travelers to stay during the years that segregation and increasing auto travel overlapped. Curious about those experiences from a personal point of view? Try any of these 15 audio recordings that document the period, and the people who hosted Black travelers.

 

 Did you know that in the 1930s there was an all Black production of Macbeth under the auspices of the Federal Theater Project, and was dubbed “the play that electrified Harlem.” According to the exhibit notes, "Over 10,000 people crowded outside the 1,223-seat Lafayette Theater in Harlem. They packed Seventh Avenue for 10 blocks, and halted northbound traffic for over an hour." A nice selection of photos, sketches, notes and other documents are archived at an online exhibit at the Library of Congress.

 

 Zora Neale Hurston is best known as a writer of fiction and a participant in the Harlem Renaissance. She was also a prolific playwright; ten of her works for the theater can be viewed online in typescript also at the Library of Congress.

 

 The Library of Congress doesn’t just showcase scholarly material. It enters the realm of popular social media on Pinterest  where a broad selection of visual boards in many categories is on view for Black History Month.

 

 Looking for external sites with interesting content? Try these selected starting points.

 

 This link also goes to a number of digitized Black newspapers. Here is an even more comprehensive list of this type of media broken out by state .

 

Two Live Black History Events: Detroit and Philadelphia

If you prefer your Black history experience live and you happen to live in Detroit or Philadelphia there's lots to enjoy this year.

 

 In the Detroit area the Henry Ford Museum (Dearborn) has an extensive roster of live events and exhibits scheduled for the month. According to the Ford Museum, this year, the national Black History Month theme focuses on African Americans and the Arts. In that spirit the museum hosts weekend celebrations featuring musicians, dancers, poets and plays. "From the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s to the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s to the passionate performers of today, art holds a mirror to our society, lifts us up and challenges us to create change."

 

The Ford Museum noted,"2024 marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act. Debuting February 22 is the first installation in a three-part pop-up exhibit reflecting on why the act was needed.”

 

 Meanwhile in Philadelphia, the 32nd Annual African Children’s Book Fair is on Sat., Feb. 3 from 1-4 pm at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and it’s FREE.

 

Reach RBH Monthly writer Susan Halas at wailukusue@gmail.com

 

Rare Book Monthly

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