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Just American: A century of Black life

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNS) -- Black History Month, or National African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history.

The event grew out of "Negro History Week," the brainchild of noted Harvard-trained historian Carter Woodson. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month.

Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history. President Gerald Ford, the commander in chief in 1976, called upon the public to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."

Since then, every American president has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme. The 2015 theme, “A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture,” marks a century of officially celebrating black life.

Black life and history itself began in Africa, affectionately called the "Motherland." Slaves brought history with them to the United States and adopted the culture of the new land creating a unique culture known as black culture. Over time this culture would transform itself many times before becoming what it is known as today. So when you experience the celebration of black history month it is an eclectic experience of food, art, music and more.

Over the past century, African American life, history, and culture have become major forces in the United States and the world. In the beginning few could have imagined that African Americans in music, art, and literature would become appreciated by the global community. Fewer still could have predicted the prominence achieved by African Americans, as well as other people of African descent, in shaping world politics, war, and diplomacy. Indeed, it was nearly universally believed that Africans and people of African descent had played no role in the unfolding of history and were a threat to American civilization itself. A century later, few can deny the centrality of African Americans in the making of American history.

This transformation is the result of effort, not chance. Confident that their struggles mattered in human history, black scholars, artists, athletes, and leaders self-consciously used their talents to change how the world viewed African Americans. The “New Negro” of the post-World War I era made modernity their own and gave the world a cornucopia of cultural gifts, including jazz, poetry based on the black vernacular, and an appreciation of African art. African American athletes dominated individual and team sports transforming baseball, track-and-field, football, boxing, and basketball. In a wave of social movements, African American activism transformed race relations, challenged American foreign policy, and became the American conscience on human rights. While the spotlight often shines on individuals, this movement is the product of organization, of institutions and institution-builders who gave direction to effort.

African American history is rich in culture, full of struggle and triumph. Even with continued social struggles, each African American is proud when they hear the National Anthem; they enjoy and participate in the democratic society, and defend this country and its freedom, those things that just make them American.

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