AURORA | Even women’s reproductive rights activists have stories to offer about how black Americans have changed the nation and the world.
Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains points out that Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner is known as the “woman who changed how we manage menstruation.”
Black History Month has grown locally into a powerful force for education to enlighten all Americans about the history of the nation and focus on the dangers of racism and bigotry.
Despite being a victim of that racism, Kenner persisted in her strive to invent and eventually was rewarded a U.S. Patent for her ingenuity.
Her most famous invention was the development of the sanitary belt, which Planned Parenthood officials say was a “huge move forward in menstrual health products” before the 1960s.
Kenner attended Howard University but had to drop out for lack of money. She became an inventor nonetheless and developed the sanitary belt. She came close to selling it to a manufacturer in the 1930s but producers refused her when they discovered she was black.
She saved enough money to register her own patent for the product in 1956, changing history. She died at 93 holding more patents than any other black woman, including one for the common toilet-paper holder.
Black History Month is one of the nation’s oldest organized history celebrations, and has been recognized by U.S. presidents, governors and legislatures for decades through proclamations and celebrations.
HOW DID IT START?
It was Carter G. Woodson, a founder of the Association for the Study of African American History, who first came up with the idea of the celebration that became Black History Month. Woodson, the son of recently-freed Virginia slaves, who went on to earn a Ph.D in history from Harvard, originally came up with the idea of Negro History Week to encourage black Americans to become more interested in their own history and heritage. Woodson worried that black children were not being taught about their ancestors’ achievements in American schools in the early 1900s.
“If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated,” Woodson said.
Woodson chose February for Negro History Week because it had the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Lincoln was born on Feb. 12, and Douglass, a former slave, did not know his exact birthday but celebrated it on Feb. 14.
Daryl Michael Scott, a Howard University history professor and former ASAAH president, said Woodson chose that week because black Americans were already celebrating Lincoln’s and Douglass’s birthdays. With the help of black newspapers, he promoted that week as a time to focus on African-American history as part of the celebrations that were already ongoing.
The first Negro History Week was announced in February 1926.
“This was a community effort spearheaded by Woodson that built on tradition, and built on black institutional life and structures to create a new celebration that was a week long, and it took off like a rocket,” Scott said.
WHY THE CHANGE FROM A WEEK TO A MONTH?
Negro History Week was wildly successful, but Woodson felt it needed more.
Woodson’s original idea for Negro History Week was for it to be a time for student showcases of the African-American history they learned the rest of the year, not as the only week black history would be discussed, Scott said. Woodson later advocated starting a Negro History Year, saying that during a school year “a subject that receives attention one week out of thirty six will not mean much to anyone.”
Individually several places, including in West Virginia in the 1940s and in Chicago in the 1960s, expanded the celebration into Negro History Month. The civil rights and Black Power movement advocated for an official shift from Black History Week to Black History Month, Scott said, and, in 1976, on the 50th anniversary of the beginning of Negro History Week, the Association for the Study of African American History made the shift to Black History Month.
Every president since Gerald R. Ford through Barack Obama has issued a statement honoring the spirit of Black History Month.
Ford first honored Black History Week in 1975, calling the recognition “most appropriate,” as the country developed “a healthy awareness on the part of all of us of achievements that have too long been obscured and unsung.” The next year, in 1976, Ford issued the first Black History Month commemoration, saying with the celebration “we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
President Jimmy Carter added in 1978 that the celebration “provides for all Americans a chance to rejoice and express pride in a heritage that adds so much to our way of life,” with President Ronald Reagan saying in 1981 that “understanding the history of black Americans is a key to understanding the strength of our nation.”
Metro Black History Month Events 2020
February may already be on its way out, but there are still plenty of ways to celebrate Black History Month across the metroplex.
From keynote speeches to film festivals, there’s no dearth of ways to commemorate African-Americans throughout the decades.
Peep this brief list of Black History Month goings-on across the metro area in the coming weeks.
Black History Month Celebration with Dr. Jonathan Hill
12 p.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 20. The University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine. Education 2 South Auditorium. RSVP at ucdenver-dm-adm.edu.
The student National Dental Association and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is celebrating with food, music and keynote with Dr. Jonathan W. Hill, owner of Hill Dentistry.
The 26th Annual Black History Month Film Festival
3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Feb. 22, and Feb. 29 Black American West Museum and Heritage Center. 3091 California St. Denver. Free. Search for the event on Facebook for more information.
Black History Month at The Bug Theatre
6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Feb. 20. The Bug Theatre. 3654 Navajo St., Denver. Entry is $5. Search for the event on Facebook for more information.
Celebrating Black History Month: Art Exhibit and Family Free Day
2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Feb. 23, Parker Arts Complex, 20000 Pikes Peak Ave., Parker. Free. Visit parkerarts.org for more information.
Denver Black History Brunch and Trivia
1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Feb. 23. Rock Steady, 2100 Curtis St., Denver. Free. Search for the event on Facebook for more information.
Hosted on Shay J and Monie Jonezy. Food from Smoke in the City. Denver Trivia.
Meet Rosa Parks
10 a.m. Feb. 29, Aurora Central Library, 14949 East Alameda Parkway. Free. More information at https://allevents.in/aurora/meet-rosa-parks-in-aurora-colorado/200019087986929
Sure, you’ve read about Rosa Parks in the history books. The now-legendary black woman and resident of Montgomery, Alabama, refused to give up a seat and move to the back of her local, segregated bus in 1955. That act of defiance led to black residents of Montgomery boycotting the bus system and galvanized a civil rights movement. It’s an important piece of history, and we know it well. But we reckon you’ve never met Rosa Parks in person. Swing by the Aurora Central Library February 29 to meet actor/scholar Becky Stone, who will portray Rosa Parks and “give insight into how and why Rosa Parks prepared for her pivotal act of resistance.”