Looking Back at Black History Month

“We, the successors of a country and a time

where a skinny Black girl

descended from slaves

and raised by a single mother

can dream of becoming president,

only to find herself reciting for one.”

Amanda Gorman, the first African American National Youth Poet Laureate and the youngest inaugural poet in the US history, read her poem “The Hill We Climb,” from which the above words come, at the inauguration of President Joe Biden on 20th January 2021. Carrying the powerful message of hope and  success, the words seem to be a perfect introduction to some reflections on Black History Month.

Climbing the Hill

Black History Month is an annual celebration of remarkable achievements by African Americans, hence it is also known as African American History Month. It has its roots in 1926, when the historian Carter C. Woodson and the minister Jesse E. Moorland established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History aimed at promoting African accomplishments. The organisation, in turn, brought Negro History Week to life choosing the second week of February for the celebrations to commemorate Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass whose birthdays fall on that time. It was finally in 1976 when President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month and since that time every American President has designated February for the Black celebrations also announcing a particular theme each year. The Black History 2022 theme is ‘Black Health and Wellness.’

Statue of Mary Seacole – a British-Jamaican nurse, Europeana Foundation, Europe, CC BY-SA

Celebrating with Europeana

Europeana offers a rich source of materials you can use to learn about Black history. The Black Lives in Europe exhibition presents life stories and achievements of Black people – writers and poets, artists, dancers and musicians as well as sports people, including those who constitute a significant part of European history but whose contribution has unfortunately been overlooked.

When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid,
the new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it. /Amanda Gorman/

Why don’t you visit one of the Europeana virtual galleries  to get familiar with Black people in European art, Black musicians who changed music forever or Black footballers playing in European teams? The Growing Up Black gallery being a collection of fantastic photographs depicting ‘the everyday lives of people from the African diaspora’ is also a must.

Mothers and Babies, London, by Armet Francis (photographer), Victoria and Albert Museum, United Kingdom, CC BY.

Interested in learning more about Black history? Sign up for the Europeana Black history email course to have great Black life stories delivered straight to your inbox.

By Katarzyna Siwczak, Europeana Education Ambassador

CC BY 4.0: the featured image used to illustrate this article has been found on Europeana and has been provided by the Victoria and Albert Museum.

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