When Carter G. Woodson established Negro History week in 1926, he realized the importance of a theme in channeling the public's attention. The intention has never been to dictate or limit the exploration of the Black experience, but to bring to the public’s attention important developments that merit emphasis.
It is important to celebrate Black History Month because it is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans, and a time for recognizing the central role of blacks in U. S. History.
The struggles of the past inform the present: Black history should matter to everyone because it is a crucial part of our nation’s story.
In observing Black History Month for 2020, our theme is, “African Americans and the Vote.” This year marks the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment and the culmination of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. It also marks the Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the Fifteenth Amendment, establishing in 1870 the right of black men to the ballot after the Civil War.
The theme speaks to the ongoing struggle, throughout American history, of both black men and black women for the right to vote. It is an ongoing struggle for people of color that continues into the 21st century.
Even before the Civil War, free black men petitioned state legislatures for the right to vote Finally, in 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment stipulated the right to vote shall not be denied on the basis of race, color, or previous servitude.
Even so, Southern state legislatures immediately began weakening the protections found in the new amendment. Years of lawsuits and protests followed, but it was not until the Civil Rights Movement and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the freedom to vote was enjoyed by a majority of blacks in the South.
Today, these freedoms have been hindered by dividing voting districts (gerrymandering) to gain an unfair majority. The ongoing struggle may seem disheartening, but there is hope. Our theme reflects the ongoing struggle of black men and women for the right to vote.
This year’s theme has a rich and long history, beginning at the turn of the nineteenth century. The important contribution of black suffragists occurred within not only the broader women’s movement, but also that of black voting rights.
African Americans made their voices heard in voting-rights campaigns and legal suits from the turn of the twentieth century to the mid-1960s. Their struggles led to the rise of black elected and appointed officials at the local and national levels, campaigns for equal rights legislation, and the expanding roles of blacks in traditional and alternative political parties.
That struggle might continue, but there is hope.