Black History Month: What is it and why is it important

08 Oct 2020
By Unite Students, Staff writer at The Common Room

This month marks the 34th annual Black History Month in Britain. While Black Lives Matter has undoubtedly brought more attention to the event this year, you might not quite be aware of how it started, why it’s important and how you can get involved.

Here, we explore the background of Black History Month and shed some light on what you can do to be a part of it.

What is Black History Month?

To understand how Black History Month began, we have to turn our attention back to 1926, when black historian Carter G. Woodson started what he called “Negro History Week” in the United States. This then turned into a month in 1969. Seven years later, the US government officially endorsed Black History Month.

On British shores, Black History Month has been celebrated ever since 1987. It was first introduced in London. Its goal was to help the local community to challenge racism and educate themselves about parts of British history that were often overlooked in schools.

It’s taken place every year since, but in some corners people have questioned just how aware or engaged the wider public have been with it. However, following a summer of media coverage and demonstrations as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, there’s a sense of optimism about the potential impact of 2020’s Black History Month.

Why is it important?

Black History Month was developed to be a force for good, championing diversity and celebrating the success and achievements of black people in Britain and around the world.

Today, it continues to play an important role in educating people, supporting equality, challenging the status quo and effecting positive change.

But the month has also caused much debate, as some question how useful or appropriate it is to dedicate just one month per year to the history of one group of people. They argue that we should be celebrating black history and diversity all year round.

Similarly, some feel that Black History Month may be further separating ‘black history’ from ‘British history’. And this is reflected by the fact that Cater Woodson hoped that there would eventually be no need for a special week or month to celebrate black people’s history. That instead, we would just celebrate black history in the same way that we celebrate the history of white people.

How can I get involved?

Many universities, students’ unions and local councils across the country are running programmes of activities that you’ll be able to get involved in. Google your university or council name followed by ‘Black History Month’ to find out if there’s anything going on where you live.

Due to the need for social distancing, many of these are likely to be online events. While it’s a shame that you may not be able to get together with friends and other students for these, the benefit is that there’s a lot you can do from the comfort of your own home.

Better yet, you might even find that there’s more for you to tune into or get involved with now that a lot of events have moved online.

Beyond your university and local council, you’ll probably find that a lot of other organisations are running events around the country. This could be anything from an exhibition, digital storytelling projects or online courses. The official Black History Month organisation has a great list of events on its website, which you can view here.

Where can I learn more?

Education is a huge part of Black History Month, and it’s one of the easiest ways you can get involved. The Black History Month website is a great place to start, with pages upon pages of useful insight, information and resources.

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Staff writer at The Common Room