Black History Month, also dubbed African Heritage Month, was originated by American historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History in 1926. In its first iteration, it took the form of “Negro History Week,” situated in the second week of February, encompassing Frederick Douglass’s birthday on February 14 and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12. Fifty years later in 1976, President Gerald Ford decreed February Black History Month to be nationally recognized.
“In celebrating Black History Month we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history,” said Ford, marking the beginning of the observance.
The first Canadian acknowledgment of the occasion came in 1978 following the petitioning of the City of Toronto by the Ontario Black History Society. Black History Month grew in recognition across Canadian provinces and cities over the following 20 years and was finally recognized by the House of Commons in 1995. The Senate secured the Parliament’s position on Black History Month in 2008.
2020 saw global protests in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May. These protests called for racial justice and equality around the world, renewing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
American organizers have themed the 2021 Black History Month, “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity,” exploring the African diaspora and the spread of Black culture across the United States. Closer to home, local organizers have chosen the theme of “Black History Matters,” taking inspiration from the movement that fueled the protests this summer.
Husoni Raymond, an organizer at Black Lives Matter Fredericton, says that while the events of this past year may have brought more attention to the themes of Black history, the importance of the month is not new to the Black community.
“Black history month has always been significant to the Black community and this year is no different,” said Raymond. “However, there has been a growing interest to learn more about Canadian Black History and anti-Black racism from non-Black people, so hopefully that will translate to more awareness about Black History, injustices faced by Black people, and more support to tackle anti-Black racism within New Brunswick.”
He encourages members of the community, particularly non-Black allies, to continue their learning after February 28.
“Don't limit learning about Black History to one month. There will be more resources for learning available for learning this month, but continue to seek out information and educate the folks around you, even after the month is over,” said Raymond.
Black Lives Matter Fredericton launched their Black history resources website on February 1. This website includes recommended viewing, listening, reading, and social media following, as well as petitions and donation sites.
As well as the launch of their website, Black Lives Matter Fredericton took part in the province-wide flag-raising ceremony at the beginning of the month.
Raymond encourages individuals to take part in the various events being hosted by other groups across the city this month.
“We are now focused on supporting the many other events happening throughout the community and working towards accomplishing our calls to action,” said Raymond.