Month expresses efforts of many
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In history classrooms across the nation, students are sitting down this month to learn about the contributions African-Americans have made to United States history.
Every February, the U.S. celebrates Black History Month, or as Contra Costa College history professor Manu Ampim would rather call it, "African Heritage Month." The month is dedicated to learning about major figures in the struggle for freedom and equality African-Americans in the U.S. have faced, as well as famous African-American scientists, authors and inventors.
The history of Black History Month itself, however, is largely unknown to many people. The name Carter G. Woodson may seem unfamiliar. Woodson created, in 1926, what was known as "Negro History Week," which was to take place during the second week of February. This week was chosen because it would coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
"Lincoln and Douglass were two of the most prominent figures in the struggle at the time," Ampim said. "Woodson chose that time of the year because African-Americans were usually in a celebratory mood anyway, to celebrate those two birthdays."
Woodson believed strongly that history was essential to any group prospering and surviving.
Woodson was quoted saying, "If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated."
As time progressed, the struggle for civil rights, and later on for human rights, that the African-American community was facing would explode into the national conscious. After the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, former President Gerald Ford officially recognized February as Black History Month in 1976.
Many names associated with Black History Month are familiar to most people. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Harriett Tubman and Jackie Robinson are commonly referenced in black history.
"But it's important for people to recognize the organizations that supported these people," Ampim said. "There's a lot of celebration of individuals during African Heritage Month, but people need to understand the movement made the individual, the individuals didn't make the movement."
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panther Party are just a few of the organizations that stood prominent during the period many refer to as the Civil Rights Movement.
"African-Americans contributed a lot to America. Without them, American wouldn't be as successful as it is," political science major Kirsten Kwon said. "Reminding people of the importance of African-Americans is crucial."
Like Woodson, many names of important African-Americans will sound unfamiliar to many ears.
"People try to cram so much into the month," Ampim said. "There's so much history here, there's no reason to try to cram it all into 28 days."
Names such as Mary Mcleod Bethune, Fannie Lou Hamer and David Walker are often overlooked in the teaching of African-American history, yet they are just a few examples of people who risked their freedom, bodies and lives in their struggle for human rights.
The study of African-American history is an enriching study. Throughout all of American history, the condition of those struggling against the American government, and their fellow Americans, has defined the nation. The fight to end slavery dominated American history until it transitioned into the fight to tear down institutionalized racism.
While struggling to improve their own lives, many famous African-Americans improved the lives of all of those around them. Men and women have laid down their lives in defense of their country, when their country refused to recognize them as human beings.
Contra Costa College celebrated Black History Month this year in the Knox Center. On Feb. 13, the African-American Staff Association and the Associated Students Union hosted "The Talking Drum in the African World Community," which was in celebration of African Heritage Month.
"The study of African-American history is the study of American history," Ampim said. "There's really no reason we can't talk about it on March first."
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