The History of Black History Month
Black History Month started as Negro History Week, created by Carter G. Woodson in 1926. It celebrates the significant impact African Americans had on development in the United States and the world. Woodson was the second African American to earn a PhD from Harvard University. He founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. The week corresponds with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Many celebrated the week nationally, and in 1976 President Ford officially named February Black History Month.
African American History Month allows everyone to focus on the achievements of African Americans. Marginalizing African Americans’ history, or any people’s history, to one month in a year is problematic. African American history should be woven into the curriculum (all subject areas) on a continual basis. The reality is schools across the country celebrate African American History Month. This provides school librarians the opportunity to lead programming, activities, and celebrations that are much more than a focus on famous firsts, athletes, and heroes. While this certainly has its place, it should not be the emphasis of the month. School librarians can guide others to think of February as more of a kick-off or starting point of constant African American history integration into the curriculum and climate of the school.
African American History and the Black College Football Hall of Fame
One school librarian, Media Daniels, has an innovative approach to making Black History real for her student football athletes. She is the school librarian at Dutchtown High School in Henry County, Georgia. She decided to submerse the varsity football team in a learning experience that brings the history of Black College Football to life. Student athletes participate in a multi-week process of reading and researching Black College Football. Since 2015, she has impacted many student athletes. A focal point of the experience for the students is learning about the significant contributions of Eddie Robinson who coached at Grambling State University for fifty-six years and has the record of winning 408 games in his college football history. Media shares that she attended the Black College Football Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and left wanting to share the experience and rich history with the student athletes at her school. She states, “the ceremony is both a celebration and a history lesson wrapped up in one spectacular event. The young men that attend can learn about Black History in football but also have the opportunity to listen to personal stories from players that attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).” She goes on to state that the ceremony exposes student athletes to the history and struggles of Black College Football players, coaches, and programs and in many instances introduces students to the rich legacy of HBCUs. As a result of participation in the program, some student athletes consider attending a HBCU.
The Black College Football Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony affords the young men the opportunity to hear live and in person legendary athletes speak about the difficulties they faced playing college ball during the dangerous Jim Crow era. Media said, “This gives students a new way to learn history. It is exciting because the students can interact with some of the athletes they have read about. It makes the learning meaningful and relevant.” Nicole Shaw, the principal of Dutchtown High School, is very supportive of Media’s innovative approach to bringing research to life for this group of young men. Her program is an extraordinary example of incorporating students’ personal interests and blending real-world learning to create engaging experiences.
Other Suggested Readings:
Freeman, S. 2014. Breaking the Line: The Season in Black College Football That Transformed the Sport and Changed the Course of Civil Rights. New York: Simon & Schuster
Hurd, Michael. 2017. Thursday Night Lights: The Story of Black High School Football in Texas. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Robinson, Eddie, and Richard Lapchick. 1999. Never Before, Never Again: The Autobiography of Eddie Robinson. New York: Thomas Dunne Books.
Picture Book for Grades 1–4:
Wallace S., and B. Collier. 2018. Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery. New York: Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster
Association for the Study of African American Life & History. Established by Carter G. Woodson in 1915 the mission of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History is to promote, research, preserve, interpret, and disseminate information about black life, history, and culture to the global community (from website).
Black College Football Hall of Fame. The Black College Football Hall of Fame was established in 2009 by Pro MVP James “Shack” Harris and Superbowl MVP Doug Williams to preserve the history and honor the greatest football players, coaches, and contributors from HBCUs (http://www.blackcollegefootballhof.org/about/halloffame). The induction ceremony is held annually in Atlanta, Georgia, during Black History Month.
Author: Michelle Easley
Michelle Easley is the author of How to Increase Diversity in School Library Collections and Programs. Michelle is a national presenter, diversity and library advocate, consultant and speaker. Michelle spends her free time volunteering with homeless youth.