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2020 – The Black History Month Semi-centennial

Happy 2020! February of this year we celebrate the semicentennial of Black History month, formally established at Kent State University in 1970 as the successor to Negro History Week which was celebrated from 1926 until 1970. Both events were established to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history” as stated by President Gerald Ford during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial in 1976.

People Celebrate (Photo Credit: PCSC Arts)
People Celebrate (Photo Credit: PCSC Arts)

2020 also marks 155 years since the ratification of the 13th amendment, the legally binding follow-on to President Abraham Lincoln’s (birthday: February 12th) Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War. In the roughly century and a half since then, the accomplishments of black Americans have been plentiful and impressive, including some of these from very recent history: 

  • Black musicians and black-inspired music dominate the charts and continue to influence popular culture

  • Over the past 10 years, there have been 13 black Academy Award winners including Jordan Peele, Viola Davis, Mahershala Ali, and yes – even Kobe Bryant (Rest In Power, King)

  • In the past two decades, there have been five black Nobel Prize winners for their contributions to world peace including Leymah Gbowee, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Wangari Maathai

  • Despite living in a democratic republic designed to represent the populace, black representation in politics has always been low. However, the 2000s were the decade in which a black American rose to the highest office in the land. Barack Hussein Obama II, born in Hawaii to an English mother and a Kenyan father, was the first president ever born outside of the contiguous 48 states

President Barack Obama (Photo Credit: History in HD on Unsplash)

As of 2020, black Americans have much to celebrate in terms of progress and success. However, black America still finds itself combating unique and severe ills, the results of centuries of oppression and slow reform to right the wrongs of the past. The socioeconomic impacts of being born black in this great country are far-reaching and oppressive:

A house in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (Photo Credit: John Middelkoop)
A house in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (Photo Credit: John Middelkoop)

There’s always good and bad news to either celebrate or mourn, but Black History Month is a time for us to celebrate our wins and rally the strength the keep pushing for a better future. We’ve done great things as a country since the days when black Americans were considered property, and there is much to celebrate about our collective culture. There is more work to be done to reach a truly equal society, and all of us together are necessary to achieve that lofty goal. 

Changing the world isn’t easy, but it also isn’t impossible. Take the first step of a thousand miles by supporting some of the black business owners in our area during Black History Month. Our friends at Intentionalist are hosting a Black History Month Brunch at Jerk Shack on February 16th and Cheers to Black History Month event on February 27th with Sarah Studer. Let’s raise a glass to those who came before us and worked hard to give us the opportunities we have today. 


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