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Posted at 4:45 PM ET, 02/ 1/2011

Black History Month: How has Obama changed it?

By Sam Sanders


Today is the start of Black History Month in the United States. It began as Negro History and Literature Week in 1920, through the efforts of black historian Carter G. Woodson and the historically black fraternity Omega Psi Phi.

In 1926, Woodson renamed the holiday Negro History Week, marking the remembrance in February, to celebrate the birth dates of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. In 1976, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History changed Negro History Week into a month-long celebration.

Seemingly, Black History Month this year won't be much different than those that have come before. Municipalities, governments, churches and schools will commemorate figures such as Ida B. Wells-Barnett, George Washington Carver and Malcolm X. Of course, the digital age has provided more options for commemoration, such as this tweet celebrating a black history milestone from the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division:

On Feb. 1, 1960, four African American students in Greensboro sat down to order lunch and launched a nationwide movementless than a minute ago via HootSuite

Or this essay from Baratunde Thurston on what Martin Luther King Jr. would have tweeted during the civil rights movement.

But the biggest change in America's celebration of Black History Month might be the emergence of Barack Obama as a major figure in black history. Recently, the black news and culture site conducted an African-American Leadership Survey, asking "25 contemporary academics, artists and activists to assess the most impactful African-American leaders in U.S. history."

In that survey, Obama didn't just make the top 10 of the more than 170 black leaders considered; he ranked second, bested only by King and beating black historical figures such as Harriet Tubman, W.E.B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall and Rosa Parks.

The president's ranking has set off a heated debate in the comment section of the Grio's post on the results. And the effect Obama has on black history and Black History Month remains to be seen.

It might well be the case that Obama's presidency has allowed the United States to reexamine the history of African Americans under a new lens and with a stronger focus. But there's also the risk of an Obama vacuum of sorts: The Obama presidency might take attention away from the sacrifices of countless African Americans since the country's inception. Some even argue that a black man in the White House eliminates the need for us to celebrate Black History Month.

How has the emergence of Obama changed how you celebrate Black History Month? Is Obama good for black history? Or is he overshadowing other historical figures? Where should he rank in the the list of great black leaders in U.S. history?

Use #blackhistorymonth to tell us what you think or let us know in the comments.

By Sam Sanders  | February 1, 2011; 4:45 PM ET
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Good can we say we aren't racist when we still have things like "Black" History month? Isn't it time for these divisive be relegated to the bins of history where they belong?

And if not, shouldn't it be "African-American" History month? I thought "black" was deemed politically incorrect years ago...

Posted by: silencedogoodreturns | February 1, 2011 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Does it really matter? Left wing over reach in order to try and stir up debate. Why is there even an article on this?

Posted by: Jsuf | February 1, 2011 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Barack Hussein Obama is as much white as he is black. And why should we continue to have a history lesson on blacks when all we need to do is watch Cops or go to the local city jail?

Posted by: LibsRidiots | February 1, 2011 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Barack Hussein Obama is as much white as he is black. And why should we continue to have a history lesson on blacks when all we need to do is watch Cops or go to the local city jail?

Posted by: LibsRidiots | February 1, 2011 5:52 PM


I think you just answered the question right there. Not all blacks are criminals. Just like not all whites are serial killers/rapists.

Posted by: vtht95 | February 1, 2011 6:14 PM | Report abuse

If I want to know anything about black history,I can watch,"Steven Segal,Lawman","Cops",Read the New Orleans Times Picayune Police Blotter,and any local news on TV,no matter what part of the US. I encourage black on black crime,and giggle at videos of blacks robbing convenience stores. I love blacks on "Jerry",and "Maury". Aren't they"Special"?

Posted by: GreatScottBrown | February 1, 2011 9:11 PM | Report abuse

The real reason why obama won't reveal his long form birth certificate is that it states that he is White!

Posted by: GreatScottBrown | February 2, 2011 4:15 AM | Report abuse

I will delete comments as they get ugly in here. Obviously race is a heated subject, but we need to be able to have an actual discussion about it without jumping to the basest commentary. Thanks, guys.

Posted by: Melissa Bell | February 2, 2011 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Keep telling that history:

Read the novel, Rescue at Pine Ridge, where Buffalo Bill Cody meets a Buffalo Soldier, the greatest fictionalized 'historical novel’ ever written. A great story of Black Military History, the first generation of Buffalo Soldiers. The website is; This is the greatest story of Black Military History...5 stars Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Youtube commercials are: and

Rescue at Pine Ridge is the story of the rescue of the famed 7th Cavalry by the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers. The 7th Cavalry got their butts in a sling again after the Little Big Horn Massacre, fourteen years later, the day after the Wounded Knee Massacre. If it wasn't for the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, there would of occurred, a second massacre of the 7th Cavalry. This story is about, brutality, compassion, reprisal, bravery, heroism and gallantry.

I know you’ll enjoy the novel. I wrote the story that embodied the Native Americans, Outlaws and African-American/Black Soldiers, from the south to the north, in the days of the Native American Wars with the approaching United States of America.

The novel was taken from my mini-series movie of the same title, “RaPR” to keep my story alive. Hollywood has had a lot of strikes and doesn’t like telling our stories…its been “his-story” of history all along…until now. The movie so far has attached, Bill Duke directing, Hill Harper, Glynn Turman, James Whitmore Jr. and a host of other major actors in which we are in talks with.

When you get a chance, also please visit our Alpha Wolf Production website at; and see our other productions, like Stagecoach Mary, the first Black Woman to deliver mail for the United States Postal System in Montana, in the 1890's, “spread the word”.


Posted by: awprods | February 7, 2011 1:33 AM | Report abuse

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