Minorities in US History
Minority Commemorative Months & US History
February is Black History Month. Women’s History Month is celebrated in March. The Hispanic Heritage Month runs mid September to mid October. The Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) History Month is observed in October.
Disparate as these month-long events seem, they all flow from one fundamental premise: a yearning for an unreserved acknowledgement or recognition for the contributions of members of these minority groups to the evolution and development of the United States.
Black History Month is the oldest and by far the most pre-eminent of all four. Also known as the African-American History Month, its inception dates back to the efforts in 1926 of a renowned African-American historian, Carter G. Woodson, to organize a series of events that would annually remember outstanding accomplishments of people of African descent in the Diaspora. Woodson initially chose the second week in February for the setting of these events in recognition of the birthdays of two prominent political figures in the black liberation movement in the United States: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas.
Today, whether referencing stupendous political figures like Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey; athletes like Jesse Owens, Mohammed Ali and Michael Jordan; scientists like George Washington Carver and Ben Carson; or civil rights leaders like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. every February, average Americans are reminded to show some appreciation for not just the aspirations and accomplishments of these luminary individuals but, perhaps more importantly, the African-Americans’ abiding capacity for excellence in every facet of human existence.
Although there is a direct pedigree between the Women’s History Month as we know it today and the first International Women’s Day in 1911, it wasn’t until 1981 that it was formally recognized by an act of Congress. Initially christened the Women’s History Week, it started out as a week-long event showcasing the contributions of women to American history and society. By 2001, a Joint Congressional Resolution, sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Barbara Mikulski officially declared March "Women's History Month."
So, every March, Americans everywhere are encouraged to pay homage to the often unsung toils of our womenfolk and young girls are stirred to aspire to great heights by the perseverance and dogged determination of a cadre of distinguished women power players: Geraldine Ferraro (first woman to run for U.S. vice presidenton a major partyticket),Sandra Day O’Connor (first female Supreme Court justice), Speaker NancyPolesi (highest-ranking elected woman in the U.S), and Elizabeth Ann Seton (first American-born saint), Madeline Albright (first woman Secretary of State) and Oprah Winfrey (one of the wealthiest, most-powerful moguls in the US).
Like the Women’s History Month, the Hispanic Heritage Month started out in 1968 with the most vital endorsement of President Lyndon Johnson as the Hispanic Heritage Week until it was expanded to its current 30-day status 20 years later by President Ronald Reagan.
The kickoff of the Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15, was specifically chosen because it coincides with the coordinated decision of five Latin American countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua) to declare their independence from Spain in 1821. It provides both a platform for recognizing the contributions of Hispanics to US history and a vehicle for commemorating Hispanic heritage and culture.
LGBT History Month offers lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Americans and their sympathizers an opportunity to celebrate their checkered struggle for equality and acceptance while at the same time endeavoring to create an atmosphere that is generally conducive for greater honesty and openness about being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered.
As the story goes, the founder of LGBT History Month, Rodney Wilson, chose October as the month for the celebration hopeful that he would fully capitalize on the already established and rapidly expanding National Coming Out Day event set every October 11.
Though first celebrated in 1994, it was not until June 2000 that President Bill Clinton declared June "Gay & Lesbian Pride Month." President Barack Obama followed suite in broadening the event’s coverage by declaring June 2009 “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Pride Month.”
It is unquestionable that a vigorous case can be, and has indeed been, made for these commemorative events. At a base level, they offer veritable windows for us to collectively show appreciation, in both contemporary and historical terms, for the presence and participation of these sub-groups in our national culture.
At the same time, to the degree that it harkens to discredited “separate but equal” practices of old, it could be viewed as an affront to core tenets of fairness and justice. How should it make one feel as a woman, for instance, to know that one month out of twelve every year is set aside to acknowledge her role in the making of this country? Elated or perturbed?
As a society, how could we comfortably rest with the knowledge that these 30-day blocks of time ought to adequately assuage all associated interests or concerns?
Central to the choice to resort to this practice in the first place was the realization that oftentimes, the place of these minority groups have either been completely neglected, glossed over or bastardized in modern American life or past attempts to chronicle the history of this country.
Consequently, I believe that working to truly recount and celebrate the contributions of all Americans every single day, independent of race, color, creed, religion or sexual orientation, in a balanced and dignified fashion, and by so doing invalidate the need to perpetuate these symbolic, perfunctory gestures of inclusivity, should drive our efforts in this regard.