Actor Morgan Freeman created a small firestorm last month when he told Mike Wallace of ''60 Minutes'' that he finds Black History Month ''ridiculous.'' Americans perpetuate racism, Freeman said, by relegating Black history to one month when Black history is American history, he said.
Scholars and historians, including Conrad Worrill, chairman of the National Black United Front, repel the commercialization of the celebration, but agree Black Americans still need February – and every day – to reflect on the accomplishments of Black Americans who contributed countless inventions and innovations into society.
''I don't even know how he could form his mouth to say that,'' Worrill said. ''(Freeman) showed how backwards he is. Obviously, we need Black History Month. People of African ancestry need to know their history more than any other group.''
Carter G. Woodson's 1926 creation of Negro History Week – expanded 50 years later expanded to the entire month of February – grew out of a need for recognition of the achievements of Black Americans.
Woodson chose February because many prominent Black figures had birthdays during the short month, said WVON-AM/1450 morning drive host Cliff Kelley. Negro History Week turned into Black History Month in 1976 when Blacks became more interested in their heritage after Alex Haley's miniseries ''Roots'' aired.
Though only 28 days, many believe the annual celebration is still necessary.
''We need it because unfortunately the people who write history for the country have a different version of history than we have,'' Kelley said. ''You know the old saying 'history is his story?' We as African-Americans have been written out of it.''
Without Black History Month, many wouldn't know that mostly slaves built the nation's capitol or that the Union Army would not have won the Civil War without African-Americans in its regiments. Many may not even realize that some ''misguided'' Blacks even fought on the Confederates side during the Civil War, Kelley said.
Many WVON on-air personalities, including Kelley, are bombarded with requests to appear at special forums and events in February. Kelley said he's more than happy to oblige as long as it's informing and educating the masses.
''Black History Month is really needed, however, because unfortunately, many of our young people, and some of our older ones, think their history begins and ends with slavery,'' Kelly said.
Northwestern University's Darlene Hine said Black history is vital to American history. ''No one believes that a month is sufficient enough to fully explore the lives and experiences of African-Americans,'' said Hine, professor of African-American and African-American Women's History. ''But it is absolutely essential for the country to continue teaching and training scholars to explore, invest and write about the contributions of people of African-American descent have made to the creation of American civilization.''
State Rep. David Miller (D-Calumet City) said Freeman was right to say Black history should be recognized year round, but added the importance and necessity of Black History Month has not diminished since Woodson's Negro History Week 80 years ago.
''We've shaped America. To put special emphasis on this month is not an excuse not to celebrate the legacy 365 days a year,'' Miller said. ''It's the way in which we can continue to remind youth of our legacy.''
The appreciation of the contributions of Black American
Special to the NNPA from The Chicago Defender.