Members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Wednesday celebrated the start of Black History Month, a time when Black culture and excellence are recognized around the nation.
“As we kick off Black History Month 2023, we are proud of the achievements of our members in various leadership roles throughout Congress,“ the caucus tweeted. “We are especially proud of our Democratic Leader @RepJeffries, making history as the first Black person to lead a party in Congress.”
Black History Month was established by Carter G. Woodson in 1926 as Negro History Week.
Woodson’s organization, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, chose the second week in February because it was the week of both Frederick Douglass’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays.
In 1976, President Ford extended the week into a full month as a way to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
“This Black History Month, I’m reflecting on the achievements and contributions of Black Americans that have moved our country forward,” tweeted Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.). “I’m proud to be a part of this history, and I am thankful to stand on the shoulders of those who fought for equality and justice.”
In addition to recognizing the contributions of Black Americans, Black History Month has a theme each year.
This year’s theme, according to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, is Black Resistance.
“Today, I’m thinking of my parents, who worked in the Civil Rights Movement, and all those who have come before me,” tweeted Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.). “I am now a United States Congresswoman & a leader of @TheBlackCaucus. I fight for my community with the legacy of my son, Jordan, in my heart.”
But even as caucus members celebrated, they issued a call to action.
The month kicked off with news that the College Board would be revising its Advanced Placement African American studies course amid criticism from Republican leaders. It included removing Black queer studies and Black feminism, as well as work by prominent Black scholars associated with critical race theory.
Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) took the floor Wednesday to urge Americans to recognize that “Black history is American history.”
“Black history is about the sung and unsung Black heroes and sheroes who have contributed to our nation’s progress from the Revolutionary War to the fight against COVID and everything in between,” she said.
“I believe whether it is teaching AP Black history courses or standing on this House floor that when we acknowledge the unique struggle of Black Americans through history, we grow closer to our nation’s highest ideals.”
As part of that, Beatty introduced the Black History is American History Act. The bill would require the inclusion of Black history as a mandatory component in order for schools to be considered for American History and Civics Academies grants administered by the Department of Education.
In his Black History Month message, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) said understanding that Black history is American history is “so important.”
“I don’t think of Black History Month as a way of limiting Black history to one month. Indeed it cannot be contained,” he said. “Rather, Black History Month is a way of accentuating in February the history we live with deep love and sometimes through intense struggle — but we live that history every single day.”
But Black History Month also began with the funeral of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was brutally beaten by police officers in Memphis, Tenn., and eventually died from his injuries, something members also acknowledged.
“Looking at what faces us, it can be easy to despair,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) tweeted. “But during Black History Month, I am filled with hope and inspiration from those who came before–challenging and overcoming seemingly insurmountable barriers.”