About the event
Black History Month has its origins in the US with black historian Carter G. Woodson initiating a ‘Negro History Week’ in 1926. In 1969 a month-long event was first proposed by Black United Students at Kent State University. And, in 1986 Black History Month came to the UK as part of an initiative by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo of the Greater London Council.
This month is about reinforcing the importance and recognition of black history in order to strengthen the modern black community. Carter G. Woodson argued that ‘ If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated’. Thus, Black History Month aims to educate people on the heros, struggles and cultures of black people from prehistory to the modern day.
How to approach it
There are many angles that you can approach Black History Month with depending on what aspects of black history you would like to focus on. You may choose to focus on the achievements of black people through the ages such as sports people, artists, politicians, scientists and activists. For example, the British Red Cross has a good pack on black humanitarians you could cover. You could aso look at the system of slavery in Britain and America and its impact on the African diaspora. For this, Anti-slavery International has a really useful lesson that uses the toppling of the Colston statue in Bristol as a focal point to discuss slavery in the past and the present. Alternatively, you could explore the richness of African culture by checking out the British Library’s pack that explores ‘literature and music from the great African empires of the Middle Ages to the cultural dynamism of West Africa today’.
As a parallel focus, and in particular for older students, you could introduce a critical element to discussion of Black History Month. Some, for example, argue that black history shouldn’t be segregated to one month alone and should instead be taught all year round and integrated into the conventional curriculum. Ask your students what they think about this debate. There is no right answer, but what is instructive is the values that this debate brings into focus. Encourage your students to think through what the initial motivations behind creating such a month were and what the contemporary criticisms are now. For example, does the month crucially bring into focus history which is otherwise ignored or does it help to segregate black history, reinforcing a divide between black history and supposed ‘conventional’ history? Does it raise awareness about the history of black oppression or does it let people off the hook by paying lip service for a month then going back to normal?
Black History Month exists to celebrate and honour the part that Black people have played across history. Why do you think there is a specific month dedicated to this? How can we make sure that the role of Black people is honoured and celebrated throughout the year, and not just for one month?