Black History Month is a celebration of black achievement, a reflection of struggles for rights and an acknowledgement of the progress still to be made.
In the US, Black History Month is attributed to the “father of black history”, Carter G. Woodson, in 1926. The full month did not emerge until 1969, however, within the context of the civil rights movement. February was chosen as the month of celebration due to the birthdays of abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass and former President Abraham Lincoln being within this month*.
In the UK, a Black History Month celebration first formally took place in London in 1987, founded by Ghanaian-born Akyaaba Addai Sebo. October is thought to have been chosen in the UK for celebrations as it is near the start of the academic year for schools, seeking to address the lack of teaching about Afro-Caribbean history and culture*. 1987 was also the year that black Britons were first elected to Parliament.
There have been firsts in 2019, such as Bernardine Evaristo being the first black woman to win the literary Booker Prize for her novel Girl, Woman, Other. She states that “one thing I have learned is that the future won’t look after itself. We cannot take any developments for granted.”**
Across to music, the Mercury Prize was won by 21 year old rapper, Dave, for his album Psychodrama. Turning to sport, Katarina Johnson-Thompson won the heptathlon gold at the World Athletics Championships. Black History Month is a particular time of focus to highlight these accomplishments.
Having a month of spotlight on black history is important, but there are valid criticisms that the achievements of black individuals should not be restricted to one month but should be celebrated throughout the year.
For this to happen, the curriculum needs to radically change to highlight the contributions of black, asian and minority ethnic individuals – something that Black History Month was first set up to achieve and which remains a pertinent issue.
There are many who have and continue to make progress in this area.
Echoing the sentiments of Bernardine Evaristo, “the future won’t look after itself” – action makes change.
Rea Duxbury, Marketing & Research Assistant at NEC.
A list of Black History Month events happening across the country can be found here: https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/listings/, with some events continuing past October.
*Chambers, G and Thompson, T., ‘Black History Month UK 2019: Why is it important and why is it celebrated in October?’ In: The Evening Standard. Available at: https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/black-history-month-2019-uk-why-is-it-important-why-is-it-celebrated-in-october-a4250966.html [Last accessed 25 October 2019].
**Evaristo, B., ‘These are unprecedented times for black female writers’ In: The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/oct/19/bernadine-evaristo-what-a-time-to-be-a-black-british-womxn-writer [Last accessed 25 October 2019].