How to Talk with Your Child About Black History Month
Did you know that the man who created the potato chip was of African American and Native American heritage? Or that one of the first men to get a US patent for the traffic light was African American?
With Black History Month fast approaching, this is a great time for you and your children to talk about the ways in which African Americans have directly contributed to our every day lives. These stories are valuable, not only because of their individual contributions, but also because of the life lessons they embody.
While there are those who would argue that Black History Month is an out dated custom that segregates the rich achievements and contributions of African Americans and is no longer necessary in this age of the first African American president, the reality is that we as a nation still know relatively little about the role African Americans have played in building this country.
That is exactly why Black History Month first came into being.
We began celebrating Black History in 1926. Back then, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard University trained historian, came up with the idea of Negro History Week after he realized that African Americans were literally being written out of the country’s history books. He picked the second week in February because both Frederick Douglas and President Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays occur in that week.
Born into slavery, Douglas grew up to become a passionate and forceful opponent of slavery, who is to this day remembered for his eloquence and brilliance.
Fifty years after the inception of Negro History Week, it was expanded to a full month in 1976, the year of the U.S. Bicentennial Celebration.
Dr. Woodson, who could be speaking to critics today, explained that Black History month is not meant to segregate black achievements, but to place those achievements in historical context when he said: “We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice.”
Those may be abstract thoughts that are difficult for a child to grasp. But every child knows that he or she wants to be recognized for their accomplishments, particularly when their friends and fellow students are getting recognition for what they have accomplished. It’s that natural feeling that Dr. Woodson is talking about in the quote above and that lead to the establishment of Black History Month.
And, just as you can break down that quote to help your child understand why the month was created, you can also use vivid examples that impact your life today to explore some of the achievements of African Americans in this country.
Printed with permission of The Maynard Insitute. © 2009 The Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education
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