Exploring Black History Month: From its Roots to the Classroom

OUT NOW: Black Student Magazine 2024 Edition

Black Student Magazine’s student journalists covering the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington in 2024.

The origins of Black History Month trace back over a century ago. While the month-long period of remembrance and celebration is recognized nationally, only a dozen states incorporate Black history education in their K-12 instruction.

Black History Month got its start in the summer of 1915 when a three-week celebration of Black history was held in Chicago. Somewhere between six and twelve thousand African Americans from all around the nation overflowed a coliseum to celebrate the advancements they had made since the abolishment of slavery.

In attendance was Carter G. Woodson, a historian from the University of Chicago, who was so inspired by the experience that he later founded an organization known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).

Dr. Carter G. Woodson, 1875 (Image Source: Wikipedia)

In 1924, ASALH established the first ever Black History Week in the states, and thanks to the great effort of Woodson, his fellow ASALH members, and those who would carry on their legacy, Black History Month would later be established by President Gerald Ford in February 1976.

In the opening remarks of his announcement, President Ford said, “IN THE Bicentennial year of our Independence, we can review with admiration the impressive contributions of black Americans to our national life and culture.

One hundred years ago, to help highlight these achievements, Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. We are grateful to him today for his initiative, and we are richer for the work of his organization.”

Since the inception of Black History Month, ASALH has announced a unique theme for the celebration each year. Last year, for instance, the theme was “Black Resistance.” The theme for this year is “African Americans and the Arts.”

“In the fields of visual and performing arts, literature, fashion, folklore, language, film, music, architecture, culinary and other forms of cultural expression, the African American influence has been paramount,” the ASALH stated in its 2024 announcement.

Why Teach Black History?

In his proclamation on National Black History Month 2024, President Biden called upon “public officials, educators, librarians, and all the people of the United States to observe this month with relevant programs, ceremonies, and activities.”

Despite being a nationally observed month-long period of recognition, only a dozen states have a K-12 Black history mandate, including Washington, Colorado, Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, South Carolina, Florida, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island.

According to LaGarret J. King, the founding director of The Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education, however, many of these mandates are lacking in substance. Some of them even have laws putting parameters on what can be taught and how regarding race and related topics.

“Black History Month to me is a crucial and inspiring time to celebrate and learn about the resilience, achievements, and contributions of Black people throughout history that have often been overlooked or erased,” says Jael Calloway, Director of Publications at Black Student Magazine. “It’s a time for us to amplify Black voices, educate others on our rich heritage, and push for continued progress toward equality and justice.”

Jael oversees Black Student Magazine’s important work in bringing students of color and allies nationwide together to produce a digital magazine that’s published every February (Click here to read the 2024 edition!). For her, Black history education is essential.

“Teaching Black history is not only fun but critical to all generations because it ensures a more accurate and inclusive understanding of the perseverance threaded through Black history,” she explains. “It not only empowers Black individuals by validating their experiences and contributions, but it promotes empathy, respect, and appreciation for diversity in our society.”

Why teach Black history? Because Black history is American history — further still, it’s human history. As Jael noted, through studying, exploring, and appreciating Black history, the innumerable contributions that bloomed from it, and its harrowing stories of the undefeated Black spirit, we expand our paradigms, increase our capacity to empathize, and ultimately come closer to understanding what it means to be human.

Black Student Magazine (BSM)

This year’s BSM cover story focuses on the 60th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, which took place this past August at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In partnership with the Pulitzer Center and George Washington University, our JLI team mentored talented high school journalists from Calvin Coolidge and Jackson-Reed (previously named Woodrow Wilson) High School.

“The 2024 edition of Black Student Magazine showcases the brilliant and creative minds of our youth across the country,” says Jael. “These stories are a reminder of the strength and wisdom the next generation holds.”

A video of the cover story for this year’s Black Student Magazine.

Published in print and online every February, BSM provides students with publishing experience, mentorship, and connection. Students improve their writing, research, and communication skills by joining weekly webinars where they hear from industry experts before breaking into small groups to be mentored by undergraduates from the University of Oregon‘s School of Journalism and Communications.

BSM is a Journalistic Learning Initiative (JLI) program and published its first edition in 2021 (read past editions here). Through our partnership with the National Urban League, the magazine now reaches young people in over 300 communities across 93 U.S. cities.

Written by Ed Madison and Bo Brusco – originally published on Medium on February 21, 2024

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