While the Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (Sallalahu Alayhi Wassalaam), an Arab, beginning in the year 610, its teachings would quickly spread to the rest of the world. In particular, Islam through trade would become entrenched in many empires of West Africa including but not limited to Mali and Songhai. In fact, Timbuktu became a center of learning that many foreigners would visit and gain knowledge from at its peak. Thus many West Africans not only spoke Arabic but could read and write it. In time, these same people formed a large percentage of the 10 to 20 million slaves taken to the Americas from the 1500’s to the 1800’s.
Ironically, Bartolome de las Casas a Spanish historian who advocated for Native American rights and documented their harsh and inhumane treatment simultaneously lobbied for the use of African slaves as plantation replacements in the New World. Though he would later recant his initial thoughts, the idea had already ensconced itself into the minds of many Europeans. The seed for the creation of the trans-Atlantic slave trade had been planted.
As slaves began to move to various colonies in the Americas, they brought their unique African culture and languages along with them. In addition, many also brought the Arabic language and religion and unlike most Africans could read and write. Though in many instances, slaves had to do away with their old religions and customs and forced to accept Christianity upon arrival, some customs and practices were able to persevere. In fact, Muslim slaves organized the infamous slave rebellion in the city of Salvador da Bahia, Brazil during Ramadan in January of 1835.
A few decades after the infamous rebellion, Brazil would end slavery in 1888 while in America, the outbreak of the civil war in 1861 led to the abolition of slavery for good in 1865. The fight for equality would ensue in the years following the abolition of slavery in America. This period is marked by increased violence towards African Americans and denial of basic human rights. In an effort to combat years of mistreatment African Americans would find solace in faith and religion to continue the fight for equal rights. In fact, this was the catalyst for the conversion in large numbers of African Americans to the Nation of Islam. One of the most famous converts from the African American community being Malcolm X who started out under the tutelage of Elijah Muhammad and the NOI and finding his way to Sunni Islam after a pilgrimage to Mecca.
While Malcolm blazed a trail and inspired generations long after his death, it was perhaps his less polarizing counterpart Dr. Martin Luther King and his peace movement that helped bring about the creation of Black History Month. Before its creation, Negro History Week had been celebrated since 1926 thanks to historian Carter G. Woodson and Minister Jesse E Moreland at the end of February to honor President Lincoln’s birthdate as well as Federick Douglas. Blacks held Lincoln in high esteem as his emancipation proclamation during the Civil War in 1863 would lay the foundation for the creation and passage of the 15th amendment. With the Civil Rights Movement winding down and the awareness and appreciate for the Black identity, Black History Month was officially recognized by Gerald Ford (Black History Month, web) in 1976.
Since that time period, the works of great African Americans throughout history have been celebrated, read, and reenacted in many churches, schools, and events across the U.S. and beyond as several other countries also have a Black History Month. It is a time for students to become reacquainted with pass heroism and the fortitude of their ancestors as well as point out the accomplishments of great African Americans in the present.
While many have argued the validity of a holiday that only celebrates a particular ethnic group in America, others point to the continued persistence of racism and one sided history books as evidence for its necessity. With the election of Barack Obama in 2009 and his subsequent re-election in 2012 the month has added meaning. “Obama’s election… means there has probably never been more reason to celebrate the annual February observance…” (Kern 2009). I’m sure 2013’s Black History month will be celebrated with renewed enthusiasm and marked by jubilant and rousing speeches/plays that give life and breadth to the long and storied history of African Americans in this country.
By Keziah S. Ridgeway
“Black History Month.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2012.
Kern, Rebecca. “Black History Month Has Added Meaning in 2009 – USATODAY.com.” Black History
Month Has Added Meaning in 2009 – USATODAY.com. N.p., 1 Feb. 2009. Web. 12 Dec. 2012.