A Younger Generation Questions the Viability of Black History Month but Still Sees Value in the Observation

Angelo Madrilejos, a fourth-grader at Our Lady of Victory school in Washington, D.C., listens to a Frederick Douglass re-enactor give a presentation on the anti-slavery activist as part of Black History Month on Feb. 14, 2008. (Photo: H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY)
Angelo Madrilejos, a fourth-grader at Our Lady of Victory school in Washington, D.C., listens to a Frederick Douglass re-enactor give a presentation on the anti-slavery activist as part of Black History Month on Feb. 14, 2008.
(Photo: H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY)

They were born long after the Jim Crow laws that officially divided American society were banished to history’s dustbin. Their lives began more than 20 years after Martin Luther King was assassinated, and just 20 years before the nation elected the first black president.

They are African-American 20-somethings, members of the so-called post-racial era that began with President Obama’s election, whose lives have been lived largely free of overt racism.

For many of them, the very notion of Black History Month is a trite anachronism. It’s a time given over to rote recitations of a few well-known factoids about the lives of King, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, maybe a few others.

But how much resonance can such recitations have for people who had the option of voting for a black candidate in their very first presidential election? A candidate who won? Twice?

MORE: Civil Rights in America: Connections to a Movement

How valuable, knowledge-wise, is a single month for youth who have practically the whole of human knowledge at their fingertips on their phones?

Furthermore, these African-American Millennials say they never really learned anything useful during Black History Month activities at school, and they fret that having a formal, month-long observance gives the nation a pass to ignore black history the rest of the year.

Despite all that, they’d keep it.

“I think setting aside a special month takes away from the fact that we should be acknowledging black people all throughout the year; there is no white history month,” says Geddes Lezama, 24, an associate television producer at Sirens Media in Silver Spring, Md. “But I do think it is a positive thing.”

Like others, Lezama says she learned most of the black history she knows from her parents and from seeking it out on her own. “We get a lot from our parents, but white people don’t get (black history) from their family,” she says. “I feel it’s most beneficial in that way, that it’s a time for white people to learn black history, because they don’t learn it on their own.”

Questions about the viability of Black History Month aren’t new, says Daryl Michael Scott, president of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, founded in 1915 by Carter G. Woodson. Woodson is credited with establishing a Black History Week in 1926 to coincide with birthday celebrations of Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Black History Month has been observed, with annual proclamations from the federal government, since 1976.

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Source: USA Today | Larry Copeland

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