Gripe Bag: Is Black History Month Doing Enough?

Feb 2, 2018

February is Black History Month. Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands also have months to commemorate black achievements. Host Celeste Headlee opens the Gripe Bag and talks about why a month doesn’t cut it.



HEADLEE: "Black History Month was the brainchild of eminent historian Carter Woodson. Woodson had a doctorate from Harvard in the 1920s, which is pretty amazing history, if you ask me.


In 1926, he wanted to set aside the second week of February as Negro History Week. Why that specific time? Because it included the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. The purpose was to incorporate the achievements of African-Americans into the curriculum in public schools. Only 3 states joined in… North Carolina, Delaware and West Virginia.

Woodson dedicated his life to the issues of education. He once wrote: This crusade is much more important than the anti- lynching movement, because there would be no lynching if it did not start in the schoolroom.


But Woodson thought Black History Month, or week, was a temporary fix. It was meant to fill in the gaps of history until the achievements and contributions of African-Americans were included in the regular curriculum. What would he say if he knew we were still segregating black history into one month of the year, almost a century after he started his battle?


Look, there is no such thing as black history. Slavery is as much white history as it is black. How do you talk about Thomas Edison and the invention of the light bulb without mentioning that a black man invented the filament that goes inside? How do you separate education from Robert Smalls, who helped create the nation’s first free and compulsory school system in the America?


You know who should be proud of explorer Matthew Henson, the first man to reach the North Pole? All of us, because he wasn’t just black, he was an intrepid American.


My grandfather was the Dean of Black Composers, so orchestras often play his music during February only. That drives me nuts. Do we need a Jewish History Month so we can play Copland and Gershwin? Or European History Month to program Bach and Mozart.


I’m not saying we don’t need Black History Month. We have still not desegregated our textbooks and lesson plans. But perhaps it’s time. Quit relegating so-called black history to the back of the bus. To quote Carter Woodson one more time… 'The mere imparting of information is not education.'"