A Brief History of Black History Month
Celebrating Black History Month in Edmonton is important – but it’s just as important to know why we celebrate Black History Month. In order to do this celebration of Black accomplishments justice, we need to fully understand what was the intention of this month, what was the larger social context of the times, and why this celebration needed to come into existence.
The Black experience in Edmonton is unique especially compared to the American Black experience through slavery and into modern marginalization. Despite these differences on the surface, the underlying themes are all too familiar to far too many races, groups, identities, and nations.
Where Black History Month Began
Carter G. Woodson is often considered the man who ignited Black History Month. He was born to a literate mother and an illiterate father, so he grew up understanding how a person’s origins and story are sacred and need to be preserved and shared for future generations. Wanting to create a record of important historical Black Americans, Woodson’s main goal was for young Black people to see these themselves in these powerful figures and stories. This was during a time when Black accomplishments went relatively unnoticed outside of the communities and were largely omitted from textbooks and history lessons.
For accomplished sociologist and Bissell Centre Family Support worker Samuel Enyon, Black History Month is important because of the lack of representation of Black achievement. “For me as an African immigrant to Canada, knowing and celebrating some of the Black people that made it possible to even dream of ever coming to the Americas, live a dignified life and fight for a better life for my family is both humbling and an honour,” says Samuel.
Recognizing the Black Experience
The abuses African American face on a daily basis can not be understated. The engrained racism across the United States is so deep it’s nearly unrecognizable as deliberate disenfranchisement. While many folks are working towards restorative justice for Black communities, it feels like just as many people would rather pretend this inequality doesn’t exist.
Samuel goes on to explain that those who write history get to control the narrative and unfortunately, the history of Black people has typically been written by white scholars. “What this means is that it took the efforts of Black figures such as Carter G Woodson, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and other civil rights activists to finally be mentioned in history,” says Samuel. “And why many children growing up in Africa as I did, know why Nelson Mandela, Patrice Lumumba and Kwame Knuruma were fighting for our freedom in Africa.”
A Celebration of Overcoming Obstacles
Black History Month’s main message is a positive one about celebrating the achievements of men and women who faced seemingly constant barriers, yet still achieved in ways that some folks could only dream of. And this is where Black History Month touches Edmonton.
The underlying theme of overcoming obstacles is a common story in a lot of marginalized communities in Edmonton. Whether it’s Indigenous Edmontonians attempting to navigate a system that initially sought to wipe them out, new Canadians trying to build a better life only to find demeaning work and living conditions, or any Edmontonian born without the resources to meet their full potential, this is a month to give them hope.
“It’s upon us to embody the legacy of the legends that founded Black History Month and extend the same concept to all folks of the visible minority and beyond,” says Samuel.
The colour of our skin, the amount of money we have, where we slept last night, when we ate last, or whatever challenge we’re facing doesn’t define us as people. We are all capable of so much – some of us face more barriers than others. Black History Month shows what can be possible despite what’s working against us.