“Black History Month focused on the state of America, particularly black America, and we can look at where we need to go,” Fallin said.
Black History Month began in 1926 as Negro History Week, started by Carter G. Woodson. He chose the second week in February because it was the birthday of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Fallin said the dedication of this week was in response to the view at that time that “blacks had no history that was worth recording.”
“World War I had taken place and blacks had sacrificed much in World War I, but, despite that, the United States was a place of legal segregation and disfranchisement,” he continued.
Woodson also founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, which expanded the celebration to include the entire month of February in 1979.
Fallin said that many people believe that the focus on black history in no longer necessary because of achievements in integration and equal rights; however, he believes it is very important to remember the road to those improvements.
“To forget about the past would be a critical mistake,” Fallin said. “A person who doesn’t know where he has come from, cannot know where he is going...I want to say emphatically that Black History Month is a necessity.”
Fallin also said Black History Month is as important for white people as it is for black people.
“In fact, it may be more important that whites celebrate black history than blacks, because there continue to be so many myths, legends and false knowledge about the black experience in the United States and about black people particularly in terms of their culture and things.”
He went on to discuss some of those inequities and the manifestations of those issues, including the high rate of incarcerated minorities.
He said there were more young black men in prison than in college. He also said they are charged with felonies, rather than misdemeanors, at a higher rate than their white counterparts.
This, he said, leads to those individuals being disfranchised because they lose their right to vote and struggle to find gainful employment after release.
“Despite achievements, the masses of blacks and other minorities continue to be trapped, continue to suffer economically, educationally, politically and otherwise,” Fallin said. “The legacy and history of discrimination and segregation are still with us.”