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Is Black History Month Outdated?

VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES | Platform

February 17, 2001|MARY REESE BOYKIN

In 1926, educator Carter G. Woodson--often called the father of black history--organized Negro History Week to recognize the accomplishments of blacks in history, the arts and sciences, business and all other facets of American life. The event became Black History Month in 1976.

Is this celebration still timely, or is it one that has outlived its usefulness? MARY REESE BOYKIN spoke with an advocate of the celebration.

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DOLORES NEHEMIAH

President, Our Authors Study Club

Because so much of black history was never recorded, presented or published, Carter G. Woodson decided, in 1926, that the only way for our history to gain recognition was to establish a celebration. Even today, the achievements of blacks are not given the same level of acknowledgment and prominence as those of whites.

Our Authors' Study Club was founded by Vassie Davis Wright on Feb. 14, 1945. In 1947, the club became incorporated and chartered by the Assn. for the Study of African American Life and History, a national organization started by Woodson in 1915. Our mission is to present and preserve black history.

If it were told correctly, people would know that as early as the 1600s in California there was a colony of people of African descent. Black children need to know that they have a worthy past. The only way they can know is to be taught.

Our Authors Study Club emphasizes black history in February, but we don't relegate the study, research and recognition of our history to February only. We do it all year long. We find and present authors year-round, for example, at the Washington Irving Branch Library in the Jessie M. Beavers Rooms (Beavers was a longtime society writer for the Los Angeles Sentinel). We sponsor essay contests throughout the year. While a free bus tour of historic black L.A. on the first Saturday of February is a traditional part of our Black History Month celebrations, we hold this tour throughout the year upon request.

And we are starting a young readers' program because we are interested in literacy. We want to focus on our young people who are maintaining A's and B's in school. They don't get recognition. Last year, our organization--a group with a roster of 100--gave $10,000 in scholarships.

It is so important to us that our young people feel good about who they are because of from whence they came. There are lots of people who think we celebrate Black History Month because of our freedom from slavery. Some young blacks are ashamed of this history. We want them to know that our history did not begin with the Emancipation Proclamation. We must keep alive for them their heritage from Africa.

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