If you, like many Americans, learned Black history from a white perspective, you probably learned it in three phases. First, there was slavery — and you probably learned a sanitized version of this history that glossed over the horrific atrocities — then there was Jim Crow, and then Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King solved racism through the Civil Rights Movement.
Carter G. Woodson, who developed what would become Black History Month in 1926, recognized the shortcomings of the US education system in teaching Black history and the accomplishments of African Americans. He believed it was essential for Black people to be proud of their heritage and for others to spend time understanding it. “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history,” he said.
Woodson hoped his “Negro History Week” (the precursor to Black History Month) would eventually be unnecessary, that Black history would be universally understood as American history. It’s clear that there’s a long way to go in achieving that goal. Understanding the history of race and racism in this country is essential to moving forward. As Black history in general has been sanitized and overlooked, there’s a real tendency among institutions — universities included — to reduce Black History Month’s significance to a handful of figures and slogans, if not downright stereotypes. New York University and Loyola University Chicago, for instance, recently faced backlash for serving cornbread, fried chicken, Kool-Aid, and watermelon-flavored water in celebration of Black History Month.
This February, the staff of The Blue & Gray encourages students to take full advantage of the resources available to them to learn more about Black history. It’s worth repeating: Black people cannot and should not bear the burden of the education and re-education of non-Black people. UMW offers many virtual events throughout the month, including “The Place of Black Lives in Plantation Museums” on Feb. 4, “Black Cultural Jeopardy” on Feb. 8 and “What is it like Being Black at UMW?” on Feb. 11. More information can be found on the JFMC website.