Gray Matters (February 2020)

Black History is American History

Happy Black History Month!

In 1926, Carter G. Woodson established what he titled Negro History Week. Dr. Woodson, a PhD in history from Harvard University, chose the week in February that incorporated the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12) and Fredrick Douglass (Feb. 14). In his advocacy for recognizing Negro History Week, Woodson wrote, “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”

In 1976, on the 50th anniversary of Woodson’s inaugural Negro History Week, Gerald Ford used his presidency to establish the month of February as Black History Month. In making this declaration, Ford stated, “In celebrating Black History Month we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout history.”

As I wrote last year at this time, Capitol Hill Day School has its own history with Black History Month. This year, our focus is the celebration of Black voices in our community. EC classes will stage a birthday party for Frederick Douglass and visit his home near Capitol Hill. We will sing and dance with one highlight being an Elementary focus on the iconically DC music form, Go-Go. Older students, through our newly formed Black Student Union, will lead peers in Black History Month-themed conversations during weekly Upper Grade Community Time.

As a professional community, we will use this month to deepen our practice. As an element of this work, faculty and staff will take a field trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Through a community connection (Thanks, Dave Opkins!), we have connected with that museum’s educator, Candra Flanagan. In addition, we have been reading and discussing several articles (linked below) in an effort to reflect on and help guide our teaching and learning.

Now more than ever, as a school community, we affirm the belief that Black history is American history and that the lives and stories of African Americans should be seamlessly woven into all of our teaching and learning. In the words of an article from the National Council for the Social Studies, “teaching should center on how Black history improves our understanding of contemporary circumstances, and how it can stimulate us to improve our democracy.”

As we renew our vision for Black History Month at Capitol Hill Day School, we strive for a balance of celebration and remembrance of the breadth of contributions of the Black American community. Ultimately, we strive as educators to live into Dr. Woodson’s vision: “We should emphasize not [Black] history, but the [Black] in history,” Woodson said. “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.”

This Is How February Became Black History Month” (Time)
Mining the Jewel of Black History Month” (Teaching Tolerance)
Black History Month in Schools — Retire or Reboot?” (The Atlantic)
Carter Reads the Newspaper