For nearly 100 years, we have been celebrating Black History Month in the USA. Carter G Woodson, the son of former slaves, is credited with founding Black History Month. He, himself, is a worthy member of the Black people who have been commemorated. He worked as a coal miner before attending college and becoming the second African-American to receive a Ph.D at Harvard. He instituted Negro History week in Chicago in 1926 to to encourage “people of all ethnic and social backgrounds [to] discuss the black experience.” Congress passed “National Black History Month” into law in 1986, proclaiming that “the foremost purpose of Black History Month is to make all Americans aware of this struggle for freedom and equal opportunity” (Library of Congress). There had been so many Black intellectuals and professionals who added their creativity and skill, but who were unrecognized. to our country.
“But in order to make the claim about Black genius, about Black excellence, you have to build the space in which to do that. There is no room.” Congress passed “National Black History Month” into law in 1986, creating “that room.”
The month of February was chosen to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. president who issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and of Frederick Douglass, an African-American orator, social reformer, writer and abolitionist. Our own Madison County hosted Frederick Douglass in Peterboro and Cazenovia. In fact, Madison County was known as “The Banner County” of the U.S.. in the mid-1800s because of its voting support of anti-slavery measures. Madison County was a hot-bed of activities that were critical to the outbreak of the Civil War.
Black History Month today can provide us all with a reminder to take stock of where racism persists in our country, and give visibility to the people and organizations that are working to create change. Both the Town and the Village of Cazenovia have passed anti-bias policies that are positive acts of antiracism. The Antiracism Coalition of Cazenovia is working with the Town Board to create procedures that will implement these policies of equity and compassion. But also during the past year, our community has experienced incidents of racist graffiti and ethnic micro-aggressions.
The National Abolition Hall of Fame expresses a continued need to honor our Black Americans in its mission statement, “to honor anti-slavery abolitionists, their work to end slavery, and the legacy of that struggle, and strives to complete the second and on-going abolition — the moral conviction to end racism.”
Maya Angelo has said it another way: "You may write me down in history with your bitter, twisted lies. You may trod me in the very dirt. But still like dust, I'll rise."
—Louise Brown Smith