A Very Brief History of Black History Month

Historian Carter G. Woodson declared the second week of February as “Negro History Week” in 1926. He chose that week because it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on the 12th and Frederick Douglass on the 14th.

Black History Month became official in 1976 when white people recognized it. President Gerald Ford announced it was time to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Subsequently, each year the President has proclaimed February as Black History Month.

Notably, in his 2017 declaration the current occupant of the White House, a renowned historian in his own right, stated, “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”

From the 2019 declaration:

This year’s theme, “Black Migrations,” highlights the challenges and successes of African Americans as they moved from farms in the agricultural South to centers of industry in the North, Midwest, and West—especially the migrations that occurred in the twentieth century.  Through these migrations, millions of African Americans reshaped the demographic landscape of America, starting new lives in cities such as Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, and New York City.

Read the entire proclamation here (not likely that it was written by the current President).

♡ ♥ ♡ ♥ February 14 ♥ ♡ ♥ ♡

You do know what day this is, don’t you? Are you prepared to properly celebrate this day? Today is the anniversary of Oregon’s admission into the Union. Oregon became the 33rd state on February 14, 1859, 8½ years after California and 30½ years before Washington.

Fun Facts for Black History Month:

Oregon was admitted as a free state, a tradeoff with the South that allowed slavery in the southwestern states.

Click to enlarge

Not a problem for Oregon, as its original constitution contained a “whites only” clause. The Oregon Territory had outlawed slavery in 1844, with its Black Exclusion Law. As the name implies, African-Americans were not allowed into the territory. Slave owners were given three years to free them. Black persons who did not leave were arrested and given at least twenty, but no more than thirty-nine lashes across their bare backs. The process was repeated after six months for anyone found still in the state.

  • The Black Exclusion Law was repealed in 1925.
  • An amendment to the Oregon Constitution in 1927 allowed Blacks to vote.
  • Interracial marriage was legalized in 1951.

(Additional but only tenuously related Fun Fact: The University of Oregon was founded in 1872; Blue Ribbon Sports, precursor to Nike, was founded in 1964.)

If you are curious about that Valentine guy, here’s his story.

Don’t Know Much About History

The Texas State Board of Education approves the textbooks used by five million students in its public schools. Because of the size of the Texas market, many textbook publishers print the Texas-approved books to sell in other other states. (Advances in technology are making it easier to publish other versions for other markets.) This is particularly problematic with history texts, as the politically-charged Texas board is firmly controlled by right-wing nutcases.

Students are taught that slavery was only an incidental cause of the Civil War, after states’ rights and sectionalism. (The state’s right being the right to own other human beings.) Textbooks make no mention of the Ku Klux Klan.

Texas students learn that slavery was simply part of immigration patterns that “brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.” As part of the effort to purge liberal bias from curricula, Thomas Jefferson is ignored, but the purported “Christian” foundation of our country’s beginning is emphasized. Textbooks also stress the importance of guns to our freedom. After a heroic battle, the Texas board allowed evolution to be broached as a possibility.

With our new president and a new Secretary of the Department of Education who is no friend of public education, we’ll see how things go. For now, historians in higher education are concerned about the teaching of U.S. history. In the radically changed political climate, revisionists are becoming much more emboldened, eager to flaunt their ignorance.

In the meantime, to celebrate Black History Month, the Confederate flag has once again been raised in South Carolina.

Gail Collins has a good overview of the controversy.