Shelley Patterson on Black
History Month


“The first man to die for the flag we now hold high, was a black man” (Crispus Attucks)

It was in 1976 while as a youngster growing up in San Jose, California when I first heard this song. It was written by the famous Stevie Wonder and entitled “Black Man.” These lyrics provided some intriguing historical facts, not only regarding African Americans but about contributions from all Americans. As a kid, I would read the lyrics to this song repeatedly until I memorized the important roles that black men played in our nation’s history. I would do this only to repeat the lines to my family and friends with pride.

“Who was the first man to set foot on the North Pole?

Matthew Henson, a black man

Who was the founder of blood plasma and the director of the Red Cross blood bank?

Dr. Charles Drew, a black man

Who invented the world’s first stop light and the gas mask?

Garrett Morgan, a black man

Who was the man who helped design the nation’s capitol, made the first clock to give time in America and wrote the first almanac?

Benjamin Bannekar, a black man.”

This song and these lyrics provided a valuable resource in my quest to learn about my African-American heritage.

Black History month started out as Negro History week and was celebrated for the first time in 1926 during the second week in February. The month of February was selected due to its importance historically in the battle for civil rights. Two prominent civil right activists, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, each celebrate their birthdays during the second week of the month.

It was not until the countries bicentennial in 1976 when Negro History week was turned into Black History Month. Once February was declared Black History Month, Americans across the country began to honor and educate themselves about the rich history of African Americans. Today, some spend February recognizing the accomplishments of people who were ignored in the history books of previous generations. Others, however, question whether the time for this form of segregation is over.

I personally feel that it is important for all people, regardless of race, to learn about the contributions of Black Americans because Black American History is American History. It is equally important for the next generation of kids to participate in events held each February to remember these contributions. The argument will always be whether or not it is important to hold special observations at prescribed times of the year, but I believe that until the history of all groups of Americans is recognized, the observances will remain tremendously important and should be celebrated.


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