Adrianne George, our Founder, and Chair, talking ever so briefly to Metro Sverige about Black History Month. She is very grateful her colleagues Sigma Dolins and Alexander Lange – Vice Chair and Chair, respectively of Democrats Abroad Sweden sent them her way.
Here is the full interview from which the article above was written:
How come the US celebrates black history month?
Good question! Black History Month in the US is a celebration of the achievements of African Americans and their importance to American History. It started as a week in 1926 as the brainchild of Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and Rev Jesse E. Moorland. They founded a national organization to study and document “negro” life and history. They choose the 2nd week of February because, that year, it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Makes sense seeing how President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, the predecessors of African Americans, and Frederick Douglass was a ferocious, tireless, and globally acclaimed abolitionist and himself a former slave.
Black History Month is important because black history – African American history – is the history of the United States of America. You can’t talk, think about, study or appreciate the history of the USA without an honest look at how it was founded, how it participated in the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade which leads to extreme riches and extreme horror, or gave birth to the first American Patriot to fall at the Boston Massacre, Crispus Attucks, which lead to the American Revolution. You have to remember the brutality of rape and lynching that lead to The Blues and Gospel music.
You have to study America’s repressive segregationist laws to see how they lead to the Civil Rights movement and a woman like Rosa Parks and a leader like Malcolm X, Jazz, Bebop, Soul, Rock & Roll and Rhythm & Blues. You have to study how making amendments to the US Constitution, for example, to abolish slavery, and to end segregation in schools were civil right victories for all Americans. And even though Black History Month started as a week in 1926 the world is witnessing the Black Lives Matter movement in 2017-2018 which in itself explains why Black History Month is important.
How do they celebrate it?
Well, there is the political way:
In 1975, President Ford issued a Message on the Observance of Black History Week urging all Americans to “recognize the important contribution made to our nation’s life and culture by black citizens.” As soon as the organization organizing the week extended the celebration to a month the following year, President Ford endorsed that too. Then in 1986, Congress passed Public Law 99-244 which designated February 1986 as “National Black (Afro-American) History Month.” President Reagan issued Presidential Proclamation 5443 which proclaimed that “the foremost purpose of Black History Month is to make all Americans aware of this struggle for freedom and equal opportunity.” In January 1996, President Clinton issued Presidential Proclamation 6863 for “National African American History Month.” The proclamation emphasized the theme for that year, the achievements of black women from Sojourner Truth to Mary McLeod Bethune and Toni Morrison. In February 1996 the Senate passed Senate Resolution 229 commemorating Black History Month and the contributions of African American U.S. Senators. Since 1996, Presidents have issued annual proclamations for National African American History Month. On February 1, 2011, President Obama issued a Proclamation reflecting on the theme of “African Americans and the Civil War”. In 2017 President Trump proclaimed African American History Month calls upon us to reflect on the crucial role of education in the history of African Americans. This year the President said, ” This year’s theme, “African Americans in Times of War,” calls our attention to the heroic contributions of African Americans during our Nation’s military conflicts, from the Revolutionary War to present-day operations”.
And the community way:
This varies by city and State but in my experience includes museum and art exhibitions, concerts and dance performances, school projects across disciplines from social studies to history and art, on all levels from elementary to University. There are business expos and Buy Black fairs and a celebration of food and everything that makes African Americans unique from hairstyles to wardrobe choices. It’s a time to look in the mirror and like what you see, which isn’t always easy for African Americans to do when you’re worried that you could become a poster child for Black Lives Matter if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Are there any controversies around the celebration? If so, what are they?
I can’t think of any but then again there was pushback from some constituencies in the US about creating a national holiday to remember the life and death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m waiting for the release of the new $20 bill with the face of a slave, Underground Railroad conductor, Union Army spy, Abolitionist and defacto feminist, Harriet Tubman. The $20 bill would retire Andrew Jackson. Bold, no doubt, and I can proudly say an Obama Administration initiative. Let’s not forget that America is a country whose Presidents owned slaves. Andrew Jackson was one of those. He was also no friend of 1st Nationals in the Southeast of the US. Having Harriet Tubman on a paper bill in US currency would be a first for an African American and the first for a woman in 100 years.
Any specific reason Sweden doesn’t celebrate it?
In Europe, Black History Month is celebrated in the UK. And for good reason. The British colonized many African and Caribbean countries and even though slavery wasn’t legal in the UK her business community profited greatly from the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Certainly, other countries in Europe could recognize a month to celebrate the contribution of blacks in their societies based on their colonial pasts. In 2011 there was a demonstration by Afro-Swedes in Stockholm for Sweden to recognize its role in the slave trade too (https://afroeurope.blogspot.se/2011/05/black-people-in-sweden-demonstrated-for.html). Afrophobic hate crime rose in Sweden between 2008 and 2012 as reported in The Local, in parallel or because of a vibrant and important black community in Sweden. This community has produced high achieving cabinet ministers, artists, athletes, etc.
But then again I have been to Black History Month celebrations in Stockholm in the past. One was arranged by the US Embassy’s Cultural Department and featured my beloved Alma matter Howard University’s Gospel Choir. Another event organized by a US Fulbright student from Boston University doing research in Sweden. She arranged an evening with former child prodigy James Bradley, Jr who is a professional drummer in Stockholm.