Dear campus community,
I welcome you all to join me in commemorating February as Black History Month. Carter Woodson, a historian and founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, conceived of Negro History week in 1926. Fifty years later President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month in 1976.
The name and length of the observance changed, but the essential purpose of recognizing Black history remains unchanged to this day. The observance is as much about the future as about the past of Black people in the United States. It simultaneously celebrates the achievements of Black men and women and communities while bearing witness to the challenges of fulfilling the American Dream.
In the America that Carter Woodson inhabited, Black people were denied their constitutional rights through racial violence, state-sanctioned segregation, and federal indifference to their plight. His association spurred Negro history observance throughout the United States, including states in the South and West. In the Jim Crow era, local and national celebrations of Black culture, education, faith, and innovation had multiple effects. They fortified Black institutions, promoted community pride, and challenged pervasive racist representations of Black people as unfit for the responsibilities of citizenship.
Indeed, the observance of Negro History Week provided an important foundation for the wider political mobilization of communities spurred on by the civil rights movement. The adoption of Black History Month reflected the political agency of Black people to define their identity on their terms while challenging the contradictions and persistence of racial injustice in the first modern democracy. Black colleges and universities were among the first to rename and extend the observance in the 1970s. A patchwork of cities and states followed. The official recognition of Black History Month took place during the bicentennial of the United States.
In the nearly fifty years since President’s Ford proclamation, Black History Month has grown in significance. This observance has special meaning for UCI. The founding of the campus in 1965 took place at the high point of the modern civil rights movement. The legislative achievements of the movement later framed new possibilities for a multi-racial society. The Civil Rights Act (1964), the Voting Rights Act (1965) and the Fair Housing Act (1968) aimed to dismantle the many structures that had long subjugated Black people as a second-class citizen in the South as well as in the North and West.
In the wake of the national reckoning on systemic racism, the celebration of the achievements of Black people remains as important as ever to build a future where Black people thrive. Launched in 2020, the UCI Black Thriving Initiative aspires to make UCI the nation’s leading destination for Black people to thrive as undergraduate and graduate students, staff and faculty, alumni and as members of the communities served by UCI in the county and beyond.
Let’s make a new Black history through the Black Thriving Initiative (BTI). As a whole university initiative, BTI aims to drive culture change, advance understanding about the Black experience and drivers of well-being, and link UCI’s future to the success of Black communities. All campus and community members are welcome to join this effort. For more information, please visit the BTI website.
Please take advantage of this important time for reflection and action by learning about allyship and participating in social justice activities this month.
Douglas M. Haynes, Ph.D. (Pronouns: he/him/his) Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Chief Diversity Officer Director, ADVANCE Program Professor of History