What is Black History Month, and How is it Celebrated at West?


Photo: Black History Month display in West’s Library

Isabella Rodriguez

Black History Month is a significant symbol of progress for the Black community’s fight against oppression and inequality. It’s a time for others to acknowledge achievements made by communities outside of their own. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month and encouraged the American people to, “ seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history,” according to the editors of “Black History Month” at History.com.

“We highlight Black History Month in the library because it’s an opportunity for us to highlight Black authors and books about the Black experience. It’s something we should do all year round.” says Kara Budge, West High’s school librarian who set up a section in the library that acknowledges and celebrates black authors and their stories. Some of these include The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson, Yesterday is History by Kosoko Jackson, and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Ms. Budge also says, “It’s a little something for everybody – developing a little empathy and understanding. A lot of our books, unfortunately, are challenged in a lot of places because of the perspective they are written from. Which is all the more reason we need people to read them.”

Black History Month has an annual theme each year highlighting the different achievements of Black people throughout history. For example, last year’s theme was the identity, representation, and diversity of Black families. This year’s theme is Health and Wellness, which celebrates the contributions Black people made to medical advancements as well as Black healthcare workers. This topic is especially important to address the achievements and sacrifices of Black healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The role of Black Americans in the advancements of medical tools and practices dates back as far as the 1800s, starting with the men and women that persisted against the generational trauma caused by medical practitioners and those who got denied from medical schools based on the color of their skin, as well as those that were told they just couldn’t do the work, and did it anyway. Here is a list of important figures in the history of Black people in medicine as well as their contributions.

James McCune Smith (1813–1865) – the first Black American Doctor to establish his own pharmacy and medical office in New York, 1937.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831–1895) – the first Black female physician in the U.S after graduating from the New England Female College in 1864. She was also the first Black Doctor to have a publication in medicine, titled, “Book of Medical Disclosures” published in 1883.

Daniel Hale Williams (1856–1931) – The first Black cardiologist who was able to perform the first documented successful heart surgery. Dr. Williams also opened the nation’s first interracial hospital. He also co-founded the National Medical Association in 1995.

Soloman Carter Fuller (1872–1953) – The first Black American psychiatrist. He studied and researched several mental illnesses including schizophrenia, depression, and alzheimers. He also worked with the psychiatrist Alois Alzherimer. Dr. Fuller was the first to translate Dr. Alzheimer’s work into English, including the first reported case of Alzheimer’s disease.

Patricia Bath (1942–2019) – The first Black woman to be a faculty member in the department of ophthalmology at UCLA’s school of medicine, which is the study of eye disorders. On top of that, she also co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. Bath’s philosophy for her choice of study is that, “Eyesight is a basic human right.”

Ben Carson (1951) – A world famous brain surgeon, known for performing the first successful surgery of separating the Binder conjoined twins in 1987. During his career, Carson was responsible for creating groundbreaking techniques in treating brain stem tumors along with methods for controlling seizures. 

Mae Jemison (1956) – A trained physician and the first Black female astronaut to go to space. Her skills as a physician and astronaut combined led to her creating the Jemison group. A group that is dedicated to creating communication systems that will improve the improvement of Healthcare in developing countries.

There are a number of other ways for you to celebrate and honor Black History Month. Some popular options would be listening to music by black artists, visiting Black history museums. Supporting black-owned restaurants and businesses, donating to charities or nonprofits, watching a documentary on Black history, reading books and poetry written by Black authors, listening to podcasts hosted by Black people about history, pop culture, or anything else. Most of the things on this list can also be done year-round, which brings home the point that supporting and uplifting Black voices is something everyone should do daily, not just during one month. However, having a month to emphasize Black history is a great step in the right direction.