February 1st kicks off the first day of Black History Month. This historic celebration recognizes the accomplishments of Black people and how their significant efforts contributed to American history. Since 1976, every United States president has designed February as Black History Month with an endorsed theme. This year’s theme is: Black Resistance, which explores how African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms and police killings. This theme could not have come at a better time given the recent violence in the Black community with the tragic death of Tyre Nichols. The Black community has suffered various tragedies including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, amongst many more. It is important that the founding of Black History Month is known while applying its relevance into the classroom.
Background of Black History Month
September 1915 marked the beginning of the story of Black History Month. Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), which was an organization that researched promoted the achievements of Black Americans and other individuals in the African diaspora. The ASHLH initially sponsored Negro History Week in February 1926 to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. In the 1960s, the prominence of the Civil Rights Movement and the growing awareness of Black identity turned Negro History Week into Black History Month. United States President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, and it has been celebrating the accomplishments and history of Black people ever since.
How can instructors incorporate Black History in the Classroom?
Although February is specifically focused on the celebration of Black History, it should be taught all-year round. Black History Month is more than just holding potlucks with fried chicken, cornbread, collard greens, and mac and cheese. Black people played a significant role in building the United States, despite the great costs it entailed. Black History is American History, and it is essential that students understand this and are informed about Black leaders who broke barriers when dealing with oppressive systems that have marginalized them. Below are some ways that instructors can incorporate Black history into the classroom all-year round:
- Use Scholarship and Texts from Black Authors:
- Academic publishing is rooted in colonialism and tends to exclude work from Black authors. It is important to highlight the works of Black authors, scholars, and researchers.
- Have Honest Conversations about the real Black History
- Many history textbooks in primary and secondary schools provide students with a filtered perspective of Black history that has been made to soothe the guilt of White people. It is essential that you tell students the real stories behind Black history so they are aware of the various inequities and oppressions that Black people have faced.
- Educate Students on Local Black Figures along with Mainstream Figures
- Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglas are likely some of the first names thought of when thinking about Black History Month. However, there are new and emerging individuals making way for Black History including: Kimberle Crenshaw, Bettina Love, Amanda Gorman, and Kamala Harris. Additionally, there are local leaders in the community and in your disciplines that are doing great work, so it is important to celebrate them as well!
Want to learn more about how you can include Black history in an inclusive and equitable class? Schedule an individual consultation, look for CITL workshops on equitable teaching, or learn more about diversity education efforts at IU.
Black History Month Events at IU
The Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center (NMBCC) at IU was founded in 1969 through the efforts of African American student groups who worked on a document and presented before the Faculty Council. African American students wanted more representation of Black faculty, increased Black student enrollment, and Black studies program, which eventually led to the approval of the Neal-Marshall. In 2002, the NMBCC was dedicated to the first African American man and woman to graduate from IU: Marcellus Neal who earned a degree in 1895 and Frances Marshall who earned a degree in 1919.
Today, the NMBCC is a safe space for all students to enjoy community, fellowship, and cultural events that are reflective of the African diaspora. The space is home to the NMBCC library, IU Theatre, and practice spaces of the African Arts Institute.
The NMBCC hosts a variety of events for Black History Month. Some highlighted events are:
- Food for the Soul on Wednesday, February 8th from 6:30pm to 8:30pm in the NMBCC Grand Hall
- Books N’ Brunch on Saturday, February 11th from 12:00pm to 2:00pm in the NMBCC 2nd Floor Lounge
- Neal-Marshall Night: IU vs. Michigan Women’s Basketball Game on Thursday, February 16th at 8:30pm in Assembly Hall
Please see the full list of events at the NMBCC.
References and Further Reading
Black history Month 2023: Facts, origins & more | history – history. History. (2022). Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-month
Desthuis-Francis, L.-K. (2022). 6 unique ways to celebrate black history on campus. CampusGroups. Retrieved from https://blog.campusgroups.com/campusgroups/2022/2/28/6-unique-ways-to-celebrate-black-history-on-campus
Miller, R. (2020). Teaching black history in culturally responsive ways. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/teaching-black-history-culturally-responsive-ways/