For over a century, Americans have been recognizing the contributions of African Americans throughout United States history. The idea for a formal recognition period was originally conceived by renown historian, scholar and author Carter G. Woodson. In 1920, he encouraged Black civic leaders at that time to promote the accomplishments of Negroes, which led to the creation of Negro History and Literature Week, later renamed Negro Achievement Week.
Woodson, who received his doctorate from Harvard University, chose February to celebrate the birthdays of two Americans – Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass – who played significant roles in lifting and shaping black history. A few years later, in 1926, Negro History week was born. In the late 1960s, Negro History Week would be replaced Black History Month. Then in 1976, Black History Month would officially be recognized.
In the Beehive State, one of the preeminent celebrations of African American excellence during Black History Month takes place on the University of Utah campus. While every year may not necessarily include a new historic achievement, there are always opportunties to recognize greatness within the Black community statewide and across the nation.
“This year, the theme will be the African diaspora in the arts,” said Meligha Garfield, director of the University of Utah’s Black Cultural Center. “This really infuses African, Caribbean and Black American lived experiences through visual arts, performance or literature.”
“This national theme is really coming from the Association of the study of African American Life History,” he added. “The person who founded the association is Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Last year the theme was Black resistance, while this year’s theme is the celebration of the arts.”
Throughout the state’s history, the population of Blacks has been small even in relation to other minorities. Despite that under-representation, recognizing and honoring Black History Month in a place like Utah is particularly important, Garfield said.
“Utahns need to understand the many contributions of the African diaspora – contributions to science, arts, politics, religion, and various other areas which they may not have learned in the K-12 education system,” he said. “More than anything, this helps to promote the important contributions of those who literally do not have statistical significance in the state, but who have still made momentous contributions. “
He said being able to recognize Black History Month in the state allows for open dialogue among individuals of different backgrounds.
“It allows us to do programming that is centered around people who may not have been learned about through typical educational channels, ” Garfield said. “Having a black history month and celebrating it here in Utah allows us to really dive into some deeper and significant subject matter.”
He said the goal of the U’s Black History programming will be to use the desire for knowledge as a catalyst for further education and information gathering.
“At this moment, more than ever, we need to sit down and really have thoughtful conversations around the contributions of Black people. And we need to pay homage,” Garfield said. “Especially in a time where there be a misunderstanding of what those contributions may be. More than ever, it is important that we celebrate the contributions of our people but also what it means for the future of our country.”