Every February, the United States celebrates Black History Month, honoring the achievements of black Americans, a tradition first celebrated in 1926 by historian Carter G. Woodson and lasted until now. The origin of Black History Month was because early 20th-century historian Carter G. Woodson wanted to highlight the achievements of Black Americans.
Mainstream historians excluded black Americans from the narrative of American history until the 1960s, and Woodson has worked his entire career to correct this blind scrutiny. His creation of Black History Week in 1926 paved the way for the establishment of Black History Month in 1976.
Originally, when Black History Week was sponsored by ASNLH, it took place in the second week of February because that's when both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass had birthdays. It then evolved from a single week into a full month celebrating.
Other countries also celebrate their own versions of Black History Month. Canada, for example, celebrates Black History Month in February just like the United States; In Ireland and England, it is celebrated in October. Regardless of the celebration time, Black History Month is a precious occasion to honor black history.
Black history includes inventors, musicians, writers, poets, scientists, engineers, activists, philosophers, athletes, entrepreneurs, and talented leaders. Black history also includes brilliant civilizations, cultures, spiritual traditions, culinary traditions, and great works of art.
Black history in America includes people like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a pioneer in Rock & Roll; Octavia Butler, Mac Arthur Award-winning prodigy and science fiction author, as well as mathematician Katherine Johnson, a pioneer in space science and computing, with work done at the facility NASA agency played a key role in the Apollo spacecraft landing on the moon.
Black history also includes colonies and empires. The history of Blacks in America includes 500 years of legal slavery, racial segregation, mass incarceration. The Portuguese initiated the Transatlantic Slave Trade around 1840. The Spaniards brought slaves from Africa to what is now South Carolina in 1526. European nations then quickly followed.
It is estimated that between 10 and 12 million Africans were forced from their homeland between the 14th and 17th centuries. They were brutally transported 5,000 miles to labor under harsh conditions in the plantations producing sugar, tobacco, rice, and textiles.
These hundreds of years of free labor brought great prosperity and power to any country but black people's own homeland. Black history in America also includes such figures as Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, and Rosa Parks. Those are the ongoing efforts to fight racism, fight for civil rights and human rights of Black people.
Marcus Garvey, a leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), was the driving force behind the establishment of The Pan-African in 1920. It is also known as the UNIA flag, the Marcus Garvey flag, the Afro-American flag, and the Black Liberation flag. As a symbol of Pan-Africanism, this Jamaican activist designed the Pan-African flag, which was inspired by the Ethiopian flag.
Pan-Africanism began in the late nineteenth century as an anti-slavery and anti-colonial movement among blacks in Africa and the diaspora. Its objectives have shifted over the years. Pan-Africanism included calls for African unity (both as a continent and as a people), nationalism, independence, political and economic cooperation, and acknowledgment of historical and cultural knowledge.
As the leader of the Pan-Africanism movement, which sought to unify people of African descent worldwide, Garvey soon realized that they needed a common symbol to move together towards.
"Show me the race or the nation without a flag, and I will show you a race of people without any pride. Aye! In song and mimicry, they have said, "Every race has a flag but the c**n." How true! Aye! But that was said of us four years ago. They can't say it now."
During the 1960s, the flag was representative of the African-American community. Not only that, but the flag also appeared continuously in activities to fight for the civil rights movement. Variations of the flag have been found in the flags of many African countries during the post-colonial period, all representing Pan-Africanism.
However, when the flag became popular, tensions and ethnic conflicts in the US escalated. Many riots and repressions have occurred, notably the shooting death of scholar Michael Brown in 2014 for propagating and popularizing this flag.
The Black liberation flag is raised for Black History Month in honor of the many historical achievements African Americans have made throughout the centuries. The presence of the flag is how African Americans rewrite their distorted history. In this way, the history of Africans all over the world will be unified. Having a strong historical background and good tradition is a prerequisite for people of African descent to develop pride and solidarity and unity.
These efforts are ways to arouse national pride from generations who have been forced to leave their homeland. Therefore, each color on the flag has profound meanings and metaphors about human identity and homeland.
So, what do the three colors on the Black History Month Flag mean? Usually, the flags in Black History Month have 3 vertical stripes of black, red, and blue. Red symbolizes the bloodshed in the fight for freedom from racism, slavery, and colonialism. Black denotes the noble skin color of Africans. Regardless of the national border, Afro brothers and sisters around the world always recognize each other by skin color. On the other hand, green represents luxuriant plants and other valuable natural resources in nourishing Motherland.
However, the Black History Month Flag has another equally popular version, the red, yellow, and green tricolor. The flag of Ethiopia inspired this second pan-African flag. The yellow color of the traditional Ethiopian flag symbolizes justice, hope, and equality. Moreover, this is also a color that symbolizes the sun.
NAACP Toledo Chapter President Ray Woods explained,
“Flags make a difference. Not just here in this community, but around the world. Not just now, but forever. What those flags symbolize is a sense of pride and a sense of respect.”
“This isn’t just an African American thing. This is a thing for all of our people worldwide. We must acknowledge that we are all interconnected throughout the African diaspora. Not only has this flag been adopted by nations, but it has also been used to represent thousands of Black organizers that carry on the struggle for a nation of our own.” He added.
Besides the pan-African flag with the traditional three colors red, blue, black, African-American communities around the world also popularize different black history colors.
Umkhonto, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The African National Congress, formerly known as the South African Native National Congress, is a black nationalist political party founded in 1912. Its original purpose was to pursue the black voting right in Cape. Since the 1940s, the party has turned its attention to apartheid in South Africa.
However, in 1960 this organization was banned by the South African government. Several party leaders, including Nelson Mandela, were sentenced to prison. By 1990, in the face of disturbing backdrops of civil wars, Nelson Mandela became president of the ANC. He then was first the head of South Africa's first multiracial government and was inaugurated as South Africa's Black president on May 10th, 1994. In 1925, the Party adopted the three-color black yellow green flag as its sole representative carrying the meaning:
"The black symbolizes the people of South Africa who, for generations, have fought for freedom. The green represents the land, which sustained our people for centuries and from which they were removed by colonial and apartheid governments. The gold represents the mineral and other natural wealth of South Africa, which belongs to all its people, but which has been used to benefit only a small racial minority."
Ethiopia is the first country to have a flag in Africa. It is also the only country in Africa that has not been colonized. The Ethiopian flag was originally inspired by the ANC Flag. The flags of Ethiopia and the ANC became the inspiration for many other African national flags in the post-colonial era. Over the years, this flag has had many changes depending on the monarchy in this country.
The traditional Ethiopian flag has 3 horizontal stripes of blue, yellow, and red, representing the rainbow that appeared after the flood in Genesis - the Bible. The top band is green, representing the land. The yellow color in the center strip represents peace and hope. The bottom band is red, representing strength. In the center of the flag is a blue circle with a yellow star, representing the unity of all Ethiopia. Blue represents peace and yellow represents equality, justice, and hope.
The current South African flag was adopted on April 27, 1994, after the Apartheid policy was removed. The South African flag has 6 colors, including black, yellow, green, white, red, and blue with the main symbol in the shape of the letter Y. This symbol represents the unity of the peoples of South Africa.
In terms of colors, red, white, and blue are taken from the colors of the old Boer Republic flag (Boer refers to people of Dutch descent). The yellow, black, and green colors are taken from the flag of the African National Congress (ANC) movement against apartheid. In it, black represents the people of South Africa, green represents the fertility of the soil and gold represents minerals. The flag with three colors black, yellow, green was adopted by the ANC in 1925.
The meaning of the Black History Month Flag becomes especially important after the covid pandemic. The flag not only celebrates the achievements of Black people in society but also raise awareness of the persistent instances of inequality and life-threatening situations daily faced by the Black community.
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