LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Black History Month began at Kent State

Black History Month is the longest and most celebrated African American holiday, in the U.S. More people celebrate it than any other African American holiday. It’s so widely accepted that nobody’s taken the time to do any serious research on its origins and growth. Most authors and historians consider it to be an outgrowth of “Negro History Week,” nothing could be further from the truth. 

“Negro History Week” was one of Carter G. Woodson’s promotional tools. From 1926 into the early 1980’s. Negro History Week was celebrated, primarily, in the segregated schools and libraries of the South. Celebrations of Negro History Week in the North were rare, when they happened at all. 

Black History Month was a necessity in light of the experiences of Black students at predominantly white institutions, both collegiate and elementary/secondary; where the perception of Black people was dictated by the annual blackface minstrel shows and screenings of “The Birth of a Nation.” Black History Month celebrations pointed out the contradictions between what students were learning in class and what they were experiencing in real life. 

Kent State is the home of the first Black History Month celebration in the USA. This event was scheduled for February 1, 1970, with the grand opening of Kent’s new Black Cultural Center, Kuumba House. Jimmy Garrett, founder of America’s first Black Student Union, was the guest of honor. Film screenings, lectures, poetry readings and African music and dance performances continued throughout the month. Featured artists included Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Gwendolyn Brooks, Babatunde Olatunji, Chief Fela Sowande, Halim El-Dabh, Quincy Troupe, Eugene Redmond and Don Henderson. 

The nation’s first Black History Month celebration was a result of the collaborative efforts of Dr. Edward W. Crosby, Dean Milton Wilson, Ibrahim Al-Khafiz (AKA Dwayne White), Saidi Dhati (AKA Carl Gregory) and the organizations they represented. These organizations included the Institute for African American Affairs, the Human Relations Center and Black United Students, respectively. 

For many years Negro History Week, Black History Week and Black History Month were both celebrated in communities across the country. At that time, to call oneself Black was a political statement, to call someone else Black could be considered fighting words. At Kent State, Black History Month came to stay. We hope each and every one of you take Dr. Crosby’s words to heart and celebrate “Black History not for just a month, but for a lifetime.”