When Black History Week was conceived by Carter G. Woodson, he realized the importance of providing a theme to focus the attention of the public. 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. His organization, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), has set the annual Black History Week (now Black History Month) theme ever since its inception in 1926.
"Historically and today in the 21st century, Black people have worked the political angle to seek their rightful space in the country. Where race is concerned, legislative or judicial action to deal with controversial issues has often come late. The historic Executive Orders 8802 and 9346 were responses to A. Phillip Randolph and the all-Black March on Washington Movement’s threat to lead a 50,000-strong Black worker’s march into Washington, D.C. And all three of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act were concessions to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Every advance, improvement in our quality of life and access to the levers of power to determine our destiny has been achieved through struggle. John Lewis advised, 'Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.'
Lewis’ advice is true not just for the 21st century, but also during the antebellum period, as seen in the narratives of the enslaved, such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, to testimonials about lynchings and ongoing police violence against African Americans. With the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, and thousands of other Black women, men, and trans people there are new movements (i.e. #Sayhername) and organizations (i.e. Black Lives Matter) that are pushing for the justice system to investigate police involved shootings and white supremacist vigilantes. Nearly 179 years ago, the Rev. Henry Highland Garnett proposed that the only path to freedom, justice, and equality; self-determination; and/or social transformation is resistance. In thunder tones, Garnett shouted, 'Let your motto be resistance! resistance! RESISTANCE!'
By resisting Black people have achieved triumphs, successes, and progress as seen in the end of chattel slavery, dismantling of Jim and Jane Crow segregation in the South, increased political representation at all levels of government, desegregation of educational institutions, the passage of Civil Rights Act of 1964, the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History in DC and increased and diverse representation of Black experiences in media. Black resistance strategies have served as a model for every other social movement in the country, thus, the legacy and importance of these actions cannot be understated.
As societal and political forces escalate to limit access to and exercise of the ballot, eliminate the teaching of Black history, and work to push us back into the 1890s, we can only rely on our capacity to resist. The enactment of HR 40, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, the Breathe Act, and the closure of the racial wealth gap is not the end. They too will require us to mobilize our resources, human and material, and fight for 'freedom, justice, and equality'; 'self-determination', and/or 'social transformation.'
This is a call to everyone, inside and outside the academy, to study the history of Black Americans’ responses to establish safe spaces, where Black life can be sustained, fortified, and respected." (ASALH, 2023)