February is definitely a month that elicits all types of feelings and emotions. Whether its Valentine's Day, or the Strawberry Ceremony, or the fact it is Black History Month; all of these important dates remind us of the unity in all of us and the importance of love, paying tribute to those who have been lost, and remembering but not repeating certain dark elements of Western history.
The concept of Black History Month was first proposed in 1926 by an African-American historian named Carter G. Woodson, who thought it was important to dedicate a time to increase the awareness of Black History in America and to celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans. At this time, it was referred to as "Negro History Week". It was renamed in 1970 to "Black History Week", and then expanded to "Black History Month" in 1976. However, it wasn't until 1995 that the Canadian Government formally and Nationally introduced it as "Black History Month", following the first Black Canadian woman being appointed to Canadian Parliament, Jean Augustine.
Black History month is important and will continue to be relevant until we see an eradication of racism and discrimination in society today. We still observe systemic racism towards Black people today and other marginalized populations. In 2016, we watched as an openly racist and bigot man got elected to power, as President of the United States. Consequently, we have also seen hateful people come out into the light, and increase in racist and discriminatory acts of hatred.
Let us just say, that now more than ever, is an important time to recognize Black History month and continue to encourage others to educate themselves on Black History and impacts of historical trauma.
Allow us to do a concise review of the history of slavery in America as well as take the time to recognize some influential black Americans and Canadians:
Apparently, slavery started in 1619, when 20 African slaves were brought to Jamestown, Virginia. However, other sources describe slavery starting in the early 15th century, and claim that it is slaves that made America into an economic powerhouse, through the harvesting of crops such as cotton, sugar cane, tobacco, etc. Aside from farming, slaves were used for pretty much everything else including cooking, cleaning, building, weaving, raising other peoples' children, etc. Strangely enough, with all of these responsibilities, slaves were considered property and not people, and were thus treated inhumanely and abusively.
Families were separated, human beings were sold, beaten, sexually abused, tortured, segregated, starved, etc.
1787- Slavery is made illegal in the Northwest Territory. The U.S Constitution states that Congress may not ban the slave trade until 1808.
1793 - Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin greatly increases the demand for slave labor.
1793 - A federal fugitive slave law is enacted, providing for the return slaves who had escaped and crossed state lines.
1800 - Gabriel Prosser, an enslaved African American blacksmith, organizes a slave revolt intending to march on Richmond, Virginia. The conspiracy is uncovered, and Prosser and a number of the rebels are hanged. Virginia's slave laws are consequently tightened.
1808 - Congress bans the importation of slaves from Africa.
1820 - The Missouri Compromise bans slavery north of the southern boundary of Missouri.
1822 - Denmark Vesey, an enslaved African American carpenter who had purchased his freedom, plans a slave revolt with the intent to lay siege on Charleston, South Carolina. The plot is discovered, and Vesey and 34 co-conspirators are hanged.
1831 - Nat Turner, an enslaved African American preacher, leads the most significant slave uprising in American history. He and his band of followers launch a short, bloody, rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia. The militia quells the rebellion, and Turner is eventually hanged. As a consequence, Virginia institutes much stricter slave laws.
1831 - William Lloyd Garrison begins publishing the Liberator, a weekly paper that advocates the complete abolition of slavery. He becomes one of the most famous figures in the abolitionist movement.
1846 - The Wilmot Proviso, introduced by Democratic representative David Wilmot of Pennsylvania, attempts to ban slavery in territory gained in the Mexican War. The proviso is blocked by Southerners, but continues to enflame the debate over slavery.
1849 - Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery and becomes one of the most effective and celebrated leaders of the Underground Railroad.
1850 -The continuing debate whether territory gained in the Mexican War should be open to slavery is decided in the Compromise of 1850: California is admitted as a free state, Utah and New Mexico territories are left to be decided by popular sovereignty, and the slave trade in Washington, DC is prohibited. It also establishes a much stricter fugitive slave law than the original, passed in 1793.
1852 - Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin is published. It becomes one of the most influential works to stir anti-slavery sentiments.
1854 - Congress passes the Kansas-Nebraska Act, establishing the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. The legislation repeals the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and renews tensions between anti- and proslavery factions.
1857 - The Dred Scott case holds that Congress does not have the right to ban slavery in states and, furthermore, that slaves are not citizens.
1859 - John Brown and 21 followers capture the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Va. (now W. Va.), in an attempt to launch a slave revolt.
1861 - The Confederacy is founded when the deep South secedes, and the Civil War begins.
1863 - President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring "that all persons held as slaves" within the Confederate state "are, and henceforward shall be free."
1865 - The Civil War ends. Lincoln is assassinated. The Thirteenth Amendment abolishes slavery throughout the United States. On June 19 slavery in the United States effectively ended when 250,000 slaves in Texas finally received the news that the Civil War had ended two months earlier.
Even after the abolition of slavery, Blacks continued to live in a system of social segregation and injustice for decades, where they were still not allowed to do basic every day things alongside white people. There were Black only seating arrangements, bathrooms, restaurants, etc.
On December 1st, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks prompted the Civil Rights movement when all of the bus seats for whites were taken and she refused to give up her seat to a white man. The Black community thought back in anger, after she was thrown off the bus, charged and fined for breaking the city's segregation laws.
As mass protests broke-out every where across the country and the Black communities began showing more resistance against racial oppression, they bean boycotting the buses. The boycott supporters then appointed Baptist Minister Martin Luther King, Jr., as the head of the Montgomery Improvement Association, but he would soon later be known as the country ’s most influential advocate of the concepts of nonviolent resistance and Civil Rights.
1963 - M.L.K. delivered his famous and very inspirational, "I have a dream" speech, and if you have not yet heard it, I strongly recommend you listen to it below.
1966 - The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense is formed by Huey Newton, a law student, and Bobby Seale to protect black communities from police brutality
1968 - M.L.K. is assassinated
Since 1992, countless things have occurred in society that remind us of the still present and not-so-distant unfair treatment of Black people. I think that the biggest mistake we can make when thinking about the Civil Rights movement, is thinking that it is over. The conditions of today's society may not be as harsh as they were before for marginalized populations, but Blacks today still face racism, police brutality, oppression, etc.
Let us take a moment, to respect the work and resilience of those who fought for their rights and freedom during the Civil Rights Movement. As there were and are so many individuals who are so influential, naming each and every one of them, would be close to impossible. Below, are three more portraits of some very influential members of the Civil Rights movement.
Elaine Brown- Former Black Panther leader, writer, singer, etc
Malcolm X- minister, human rights activist and prominent black nationalist leader
AA Phillip Rudolph- Head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and an equally prominent labour and civil rights activist, Randolph played a central role in Project C and the March on Washington
As another February passes us by, let us all take some time to fully understand what we spent the last month celebrating. We remember the heroes that fought for freedom. We celebrate the artists that touched our souls. Most of all, by looking back, we can recognize the actions that we all need to take in order to ensure we continue to work towards a society that is racially equitable. Don't wait until February 1st, 2020, everyone's history should be told all year long.