Author discusses origins of Black History Month during Overby Center program

Lacie Bartlett
Cameron McCreight
Oxford Stories

The Overby Center inside the University of Mississippi’s Farley Hall recently hosted the program “A Pioneer of the Black Press” during which Burins Morris discussed his new book about Carter G. Woodson, the “father of black history.” He was interviewed by UM School of Journalism and New Media professor Alysia Steele.

Woodson was the second African American to receive a doctorate from Harvard University. He is believed to be the first African American who graduated with a doctorate from any institution whose parents were former slaves.

When Woodson began school in 1915, there was little respect for black people in society. He received much criticism for his decision to become educated, and it was difficult to attend school.

Woodson believed African Americans would gain more respect, and racism would decline if they had a more “glorious past” — or a better story to tell. He was driven to tell the “real” story of African American history.

In 1915, Woodson started what is known as the black history movement. Woodson believed learning about African American history would decline racism because it would make history equal. He wanted everyone to talk and learn about black history just as everyone did with white history so they could learn each other’s pasts.

Morris was familiar with Woodson, but reading the book Miseducation of a Negro made him realize there was another story to be told regarding the history of the black press and how it was used to help society better understand African Americans and their history as a whole.

Woodson used public relations and press to popularize black history and spread his ideas. He chose February as the month for black history because it is the birth month of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It began as “Negro History Week,” but people who followed Woodson and his ideas changed it to Black History Month.

Morris and Steele also discussed “Juneteenth,” a not-so-popular holiday former slaves recognized after they learned of their freedom by the Emancipation Proclamation. They were unsure of the exact date in June, henceforth, they named it “Juneteenth.”

Morris said Woodson always practiced what he preached. He had several enemies, but made connections with people who mattered and could get his word out.

Morris recently helped create the Woodson Lyceum Black History Institute. He works to make sure students are informed about black history and how it affects the way we live today.

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