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Kicking off African American (or Black) History Month

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

February is the month of celebrating African American participation and achievement in the fabric of this nation as well as commemorating the struggles and strengths of my people. As such, African American History month is near and dear to my heart. Despite the often passionate debate on its necessity and validity, it remains a most worthy reminder of an often ignored and unappreciated segment of United States history. Even the name seems a bit unsettled as we call it Black History Month and African American History Month. So, let me offer my clarification on the differentiation in the two titles. For African Americans in the United States, we celebrate African American History Month but originally it was called Black History Month. That was mainly because the term, African American was not commonly used at that time like it is now. We called ourselves Black Americans. However, unbeknownst to a lot of us in this country, blacks in the Netherlands, Great Britain and Ireland annually commemorate (officially and unofficially) Black History Month in October. Canada's Black History Month is in February like ours. Obviously, these countries would not call theirs African American History Month. I assume they highlight the achievements and struggles of blacks in their own region's history. It would be interesting to research the history of blacks in those countries...project for the future. Bottom line, Black History Month encompasses all black people globally not just in this country or on this continent. And folks, we need to remember, when we say African American that actually describes all the descendants of African slaves in all the Americas; North (USA), Central and South America alike. We, in the United States have a bad habit in our national arrogance of speaking and thinking like this country is all there is to the continent of America. So, if we want to be precise, we would call ours United States African American History Month or African American History, US...something like that. One of my staunchest mottos is that words matter and language is important. I guess that's just the writer in me.

This mural is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on what is called its Mural Mile. This one commemorates WEB DuBois and the research he did documenting the realities of life for United States' African American families.

Mapping courage in the Seventh Ward

To mark the beginning of Black History Month, we're visiting a highlight of Philadelphia's famous Mural Mile. The larger-than-life figure depicted on the left in this mural is W.E.B. Du Bois, trailblazing scholar, sociologist, author, and co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It was here, in Philadelphia's Seventh Ward neighborhood during the late 1890s, that Du Bois conducted a comprehensive study of an African American community. He used methodologies—including detailed data visualizations—that were decades ahead of his time, mapping out every household and documenting the challenges that residents encountered as they tried to achieve success and happiness in the decades after Reconstruction and the dawn of the Jim Crow era.

In 1899 the University of Pennsylvania Press published the results of Du Bois' study, 'The Philadelphia Negro,' now considered a classic in social science literature. Look closely at the mural and you'll see Du Bois again as a younger man standing among residents at the former home of Engine #11, Philadelphia's first African American firehouse. The mural is just one of dozens of public art projects that Philadelphia Mural Arts produces each year. The works engage local communities by beautifying neighborhoods while drawing on shared experiences and contributions. We think Du Bois would approve.

For more information about Philadelphia's Mural Mile:


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