Black History Month is a time to reflect on the momentous achievements and contributions of Black Americans throughout history. It was founded in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, an American historian, and scholar who was passionate about celebrating the accomplishments of Black people. Today, we celebrate this month-long recognition because of the efforts of Black changemakers and civil rights leaders who worked to create a more just and equitable future.
It is important to remember that the effects of slavery, segregation, and institutionalized racism continue to impact Black Americans today. This often results in health disparities and negative health outcomes, which is why leaders such as Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller and Dr. Paul B. Cornely dedicated their careers to reducing these disparities and promoting equal access to healthcare.
While Black History Month is an important celebration, it's essential to remember that Black history is yearlong. We would like to highlight 12 Black History Month facts through the lens of behavioral health for each month of the year. We encourage you to learn more about each of these 12 facts each month to continue the conversation about racialized trauma and mental health.
- American historian Carter G. Woodson (1875 - 1950) founded Black history month, originally “Negro History Week,” in 1926. Woodson was a scholar who was dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments and contributions of Black people.
- Black History Month was fought for by Black university students, which led to the formation of Black studies programs in higher education and popularized by leaders of the civil rights movement.
- The continued effects of slavery, formal segregation, and contemporary institutionalized racial injustice create health disparities for Black Americans leading to an unequal burden of disease and negative mental and physical health outcomes. Health disparities are both preventable and able to be changed; therefore, race is not a determining factor for negative health outcomes, but racism.
- Solomon Carter Fuller (1872 – 1953) moved to the United States from a nation colony of formerly enslaved Africans from the Americas who were settled in Liberia. Fuller received his doctorate in the US and went on to have a career as a neuropathologist. Fuller conducted groundbreaking research on both Alzheimer’s as well as substance use, identifying addiction as a disease.
- Paul B. Cornely (1906 – 2002) was a trailblazer in both the civil rights movement and public health. Dr. Cornely worked to desegregate health facilities during the 1950s and continued to focus on the reduction of health disparities for marginalized social groups.
- Mamie Phipps Clark (1917 – 1983) was the first Black woman to earn a PhD in psychology from Columbia University. Her husband, Dr. Kenneth Clark, was the first Black person to become president of the American Psychological Association. The Clarks researched the effects of segregation on Black children. The results of their work showed that Black children internalized a sense of inferiority due to their experiences of segregation and social inequality. This research was used as evidence in Brown v. Board of Education (1954).
- Joseph L. White authored, “Toward a Black Psychology,” an article that helped change the deficit-based approach to Black identity and culture within mental health practice, arguing that new principles and approaches were needed that do not automatically assume Black inferiority.
- Marsha P. Johnson (1945 – 1992) was a gay liberation and AIDS activist who was a key figure in the Stonewall uprising in 1969. Together with Sylvia Rivera, Marsha founded STAR House (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), which aimed to provide care and shelter to LGBTQ youth, primarily Black and Brown youth, living on the street due to their racial, gender, and/or sexual identities. STAR house was the first LGBTQ shelter in the US and the first transwoman-of-color-led organization in the US.
- Racial trauma, or trauma caused by racism, remains prevalent and can affect multiple generations. Enslavement, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, and intergenerational conditions that increase the likelihood of poverty, such as redlining, are all factors of racialized trauma. Increasingly, the public documentation of police brutality on Black citizens has led to an increase of Black people seeking out therapeutic services.
- While February is Black History Month, July is BIPOC (pronounced buy-pock, Black, Indigenous, and people of color), Mental Health Month, which originated as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Month. Campbell (1950 – 2006) was an author and educator who wrote extensive works of literature on the theme of racialized trauma, as exemplified by her celebrated novel, Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine.
- Black college students are overrepresented in fields that reflect the needs of the communities they are in, such as human services and community organization, social work, sociology, interdisciplinary social sciences, and legal studies (aauw.org). This reveals two critical components to our realities. We are actively involved in changing the circumstances created by racism that impact our daily lives, and these lower-earning fields can continue the cycle of institutionalized class difference between races.
- Black History Month is the shortest month of the year, but Black history is yearlong. The awareness week became a month-long celebration in 1976, at which time President Ford stated that we need to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
In conclusion, Black History Month is a time to celebrate and honor the contributions and achievements of Black Americans throughout history. We should not limit our recognition to just one month but instead, continuously work towards promoting equality and understanding the impact of institutionalized racism on health and well-being. Happy Black History Month!!