Discussing Black History Month can be bittersweet. This legacy is wrought with oppression and suffering, but also with success and accolades. Upon reflecting on Black History Month, Gabrielle Taylor ’18 expressed a similar sentiment.
“Remembering the legacy of a struggle is always difficult, especially when that struggle continues. Our hearts still ache from the Black lives which have been senselessly taken from this world. But if we have learned anything from this struggle, [it’s that] the Black community has learned to keep hope alive,” Taylor said.
At Wellesley College, Harambee House will sponsor various events during February that focus on the theme “A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture.”
“We will offer educational events that aid in cultural awareness and understanding, with a particular focus on contemporary concerns that impact people of African descent,” Director of Harambee House Tracey Cameron said.
Black History Month was first created in 1926 as “Negro History Week” by Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The second week of February was chosen because it encapsulated the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
Fifty years later, leaders of the Black United Students at Kent State University proposed that Black History Week be expanded into Black History Month. The inaugural celebration took place the following year in February 1970.
The purpose of Black History Month is to acknowledge the contributions of African Americans to the United States. From creating a new genre of music with Motown to serving the military as the Tuskegee Airmen, a fighter pilot unit during World War II, African Americans have played an integral part in United States history. While the civil rights movement has numerous notable figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X, there are also other African-American figures that have a lasting impact on American history.
Another cornerstone to these contributions lies in the rich literature crafted by African-American writers. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” “Beloved” and “Their Eyes Are Watching God” are all influential works of literature penned by African-American authors Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston, respectively.
In addition to literature, African-American culture has launched numerous music careers and movements. From the 20th-century masters Diane Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and The Temptations to more recent artists such as Beyoncé, John Legend and Jay-Z, African Americans have played and continue to play a crucial role in American music.
African Americans have made their mark in the political sphere as well. As seen through the careers of Justice Clarence Thomas on the U.S. Supreme Court, two Secretaries of State, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, and our current president Barack Obama, African Americans have certainly played a role in the shaping of the American political front.
However, as Victoria Lee ’16 points out, there are stories that do not fit into neat narrative boxes.
“I think that active acknowledgement of Black history is important in predominantly white institutions, and this acknowledgment should not be limited to the month of February. I think the biggest challenge for those celebrating Black History Month is not erasing stories that don’t fit the narrative of the ‘respectable Negro’ or female Black leaders or queer Black leaders,” Lee said.
To cover a broader range of narratives, Wellesley College’s Harambee House has organized lectures, discussions, film screenings and other activities to encourage students to take part in the commemoration of this rich history. For some students, such as Abena Asare ’18, Black History Month is more than just a celebration of a singular history.
“Black History Month is an extremely important month for me. Back in elementary school, it never really hit me how important it was to celebrate my heritage and those who helped America get to the point it is today, but now that I’ve grown up, I’ve realized just how much people like MLK, Rosa Parks, Barack Obama, etc. have done for our nation. I think it’s very important to celebrate those who have paved the way for not only African Americans but for everyone in America,” Asare said.
Photo by Bianca Pichamuthu ’16, Photo Editor
Sam Lanevi ’18 is a contributing writer to The Wellesley News who enjoys exploring bookstores and coffee shops in Boston. She is pursuing a major in Political Science and Classics and can be reached at email@example.com.