Today begins Black History Month, a time to remember the achievements and struggles of African Americans.
A funny thing, though: The man who started the tradition in the 1920s didn't think it would last. He didn't want it to last. Some day, he thought, African Americans and their history would enter the American mainstream. A special day, week or month to tell their stories and study their past simply wouldn't be necessary.
Historian Carter G. Woodson was born to former slaves and grew up poor, working at one point in a coal mine. Eventually, he became a scholar and teacher and he decided that the great universities he attended were ignoring African American history.
Woodson started an association to study "Negro Life and History," and in 1926, the group began promoting "Negro History Week." They chose February because it includes the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass -- the abolitionist -- and Abraham Lincoln -- the president who signed the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1976, the celebration was lengthened and its name changed to Black History Month. Today, Black History Month is observed at schools, universities, government agencies and in the media.
The tradition disturbs some people who feel that the United States should have achieved Woodson's dream by now. They argue that African American history ought to be studied throughout the year, not just for a token period during the calendar's shortest month. Using Black History Month to sell products -- such as hamburgers or fur coats -- they find especially offensive.
Others say that having a special month-long focus does not mean you can't pay attention to black history year-round.
Both sides agree that there is still a huge story to tell: about how far African Americans have come from the days when they were brought to America as slaves and how that sad history still haunts the nation.
-- Fern Shen (for more information go to www.WashingtonPost.com)