For some, Black History Month takes a backseat to Valentine’s Day and other holidays in February, but for Millersville University’s Center for Student Involvement and Leadership (CSIL) as well as the Millersville’s Black Student Union (BSU), it means a time for celebrating the rich history of African American people and their achievements.
Black History Month, also known as National African American History Month, was created by Carter G. Woodson, one of the first African Americans to receive a doctorate from Harvard, who dedicated his life to the field of African American history.
It was originally titled Negro History Week and like the name says, was only a week long. Woodson hoped to raise awareness of African American’s contributions to civilization and founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The first Negro History Week was celebrated in February 1926 during the same week as the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
Unfortunately, Woodson passed away in 1950 and did not live to see Negro History Week expand to the full month of February. However, he did accomplish raising awareness and made the study and celebration of African American history a permanent fixture of our culture.
In 1976, the first year Black History Month was celebrated, President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
In honor of this grand tradition, CSIL and BSU sponsored the Black History Month Open Mic Night, where students would be encouraged to give a performance relating to Black History Month. The performance could be a dance, an art demonstration, a reflection, a soliloquy, a poem, a comedy, etc.
Unfortunately, due to weather conditions, the performers were unable to attend. Instead, CSIL graduate assistant Jesse Fraser entertained his audience with trivia questions like these: “Which city elected the first African American Mayor in 1967?” The answer is Cleveland.
“During the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936, which African American athlete won four gold medals proving to the Nazi’s and people everywhere that there was no such thing as an inferior race?” That athlete was Jesse Owens.
Keeping with the spirit of Black History Month, students in attendance were encouraged to introduce themselves and explain what Black History Month meant to them. “To me, it’s a time to celebrate our culture and the people who’ve struggled in the past to make this happen for us,” says Lashaunta Smith.
Brittany Pammer agrees. “We’re looking at the legacy of African Americans, at the struggle they went through to make us more than second class citizens and celebrating how far we’ve come.”
We all have come a long way and will continue to move forward. Next month, CSIL hopes to have an event celebrating women’s history. Check out the Get Involved site for more information.