It has been requested that I write a brief article for Black History Month about why I think Black History Month is important. I belong to the British Columbia Black History Awareness Society in Victoria; and we celebrate Black History Month each year by hosting several events during the month of February, which is Black History Month across Canada. The specific events for this year can be viewed on our website. [ www.bcblackhistory.ca ]
Now, what about the question of Black History Month, and why is it important to celebrate it. February has been designated “Black History Month” for quite some time; and I’m often asked why black people need their own month; as opposed to other ethnic groups or cultures, so I do take the question seriously. Perhaps Black History has been the most neglected or the least recognized.
The key to the answer is expressed in the name of our society, “The BC Black History Awareness Society”; and I point out that the key word is “Awareness”. A big part of our society’s mandate is to educate and make people “aware” of our history and the many contributions blacks have made in our city, province, and country.
A Harvard Educated Black, in the U.S., named Carter G. Woodson, founded what started as “Negro History Week” to celebrate the history, contributions, and culture of African Americans. He chose the second week of February to link the celebration to the birth dates of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. The primary emphasis was on the coordinated teaching of black students in the nation’s public schools.
Woodson contended that the teaching of black history was essential to ensure the physical and intellectual well-being of the race. He said, “if a race has no history, it has no tradition; and it becomes negligible in the thought of the world.” The week was celebrated annually; and 50 years later, as part of the Bi-Centennial Celebrations in the U.S., it was officially expanded to “Black History Month”. In 1976, President Gerald Ford, urged Americans to seize the opportunity to honour the too often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavour throughout history.
In Canada, the first official recognition came in the early 1950’s, when the Canadian Negro Women’s Association successfully petitioned the Toronto City Council to acknowledge the week. It was not until the late 1970’s that the Ontario Black History Society lobbied the Council to declare February be known as “Black History Month”.
Ontario provincial recognition came in 1993 when Lieutenant Governor, Hal Jackman, issued a proclamation naming the month of February, “Black History Month” in Ontario. “A time to celebrate uniqueness, vitality, and the continuing contributions of the Black Community in Ontario.
National Recognition followed on December 14, 1995, when Jean Augustine, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, requested and received unanimous agreement of the House of Commons Motion.
“That this House take note of the important contribution of Black Canadians to the settlement, growth and development of Canada, and the diversity of the black community in Canada, and its importance to the history of this country, and recognize February as Black History Month.”
Black History in Canada is a very rich history and a vital part of Canadian history. I personally think Black History Month is important and will continue to be as long as racism and discrimination exists in our society. We need the opportunity to counter all the negative images and stereotypes of blacks often portrayed in the media.
Our young people need to be made aware of the strong positive role models that existed then and now, to help them become confident and believe in themselves. And I strongly believe that we should continue to highlight all the positive contributions of blacks in Canada from the past, present, and in the future.
Black History Month is a great vehicle to possibly change people’s perception to a much more positive one, when they think of black people in general in our communities. That said, I leave you all to contemplate for yourselves the relevance of “Black History Month”.
Written by Ron Nicholson,
British Columbia Awareness Society, Victoria, B.C.
Forth Generation Canadian whose Great-grandfather, Adam Nicholson,
Was a traveller on the Underground Railroad.