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The history of Black History Month

Ghana's pledge to never again perpetrate the injustice of slavery from their Coasts engraved at one of the Cape Coast castles that housed the slaves prior to their transatlantic trip. (Courtesy photo/Breanna McGowan)

Ghana's pledge to never again perpetrate the injustice of slavery from their Coasts engraved at one of the Cape Coast castles that housed the slaves prior to their transatlantic trip. (Courtesy photo/Breanna McGowan)

Shackles on display at one of the Cape Coast Castles that were used to house slaves prior to their transatlantic trips to the 'New World.' (Courtesy photo/Breanna McGowan)

Shackles on display at one of the Cape Coast Castles that were used to house slaves prior to their transatlantic trips to the 'New World.' (Courtesy photo/Breanna McGowan)

Breanna McGowan posing with Steven, who is one of the orphans in Ghana. (Courtesy photo/Breanna McGowan)

Breanna McGowan posing with Steven, who is one of the orphans in Ghana. (Courtesy photo/Breanna McGowan)

A Ghanaian orphan girl twirling at the orphanage. (Courtesy photo/Breanna McGowan)

A Ghanaian orphan girl twirling at the orphanage. (Courtesy photo/Breanna McGowan)

A teenage girl at an orphanage on the Cape Coast, Ghana, holding ababy goat. (Courtesy photo/Breanna McGowan)

A teenage girl at an orphanage on the Cape Coast, Ghana, holding ababy goat. (Courtesy photo/Breanna McGowan)

Ghanaian orphan boys playing on a beach. (Courtesy photo/Breanna McGowan)

Ghanaian orphan boys playing on a beach. (Courtesy photo/Breanna McGowan)

Teen volunteers painting the orphanage. (Courtesy photo/Breanna McGowan)

Teen volunteers painting the orphanage. (Courtesy photo/Breanna McGowan)

Breanna McGowan with Zahara, a Ghanaian orphan. (Courtesy photo/Breanna McGowan)

Breanna McGowan with Zahara, a Ghanaian orphan. (Courtesy photo/Breanna McGowan)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — While studying the beginnings of Black History Month, I learned it began as Negro History Week, and it was celebrated the second week in February,1926, by Carter Woodson, a Black historian and professor at Howard University, who lived from Dec. 19, 1875 to April 3, 1950.

In one of his biographies, Woodson felt that the contributions of African Americans were being overlooked and possibly suppressed by the writers of school textbooks, history books and also the teachers. So, he established Negro History Week in February because it was the birthday month of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Then in 1976, it became a month-long celebration, highlighting Blacks’ journey from slavery to freedom through Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which freed more than 3 million slaves.

A person can’t understand where they are going until they learn where they came from. ‘Freedmen’ still had to overcome segregation, fear of lynching, racist obstacles and roadblocks that attempted to hold them back and break their spirit.

According to an article in Culture Trip, it describes how Ghana’s Cape Coast, a gold rich country, was a hub of the slave trade for European and Western traders at the Cape’s castle that housed the slaves prior to their transatlantic trips to America and Caribbean in the 1500s.

The article describes how the demand for slave labor turned human beings into a “commodity” like gold and ivory, and many slaves died. “Right up until the slave trade was gradually abolished by each of the colonial powers in the first half of the 1800s, but by [that] point, the irreversible and immeasurable damage was done…and an estimated six million slaves had been shipped to other countries, with 10 to 15 percent, dying during their transatlantic trip to the ‘New World’.”

To enlighten my daughter, Breanna, and allow her to touch a piece of her history, in August 2008, I sent her on a two-week trip to Ghana’s Cape Coast. She, along with many other teens from around the world, stayed with host families, worked in an orphanage every day, and realized the significant impact slavery had on the Black culture.

She turned 16-years-old there, and bonded quickly with many of the children at the orphanage.

“They were happy kids, even though they didn’t have much at all,” she said. “We would walk to the market holding hands and they never complained.”

While there, she and other volunteers learned important history lessons about the roots of slavery during a field trip to Cape Coast Castle. Breanna saw and photographed the shackles that were used to chain slaves and an engraved plaque that read, “In Everlasting Memory of the anguish of our ancestors. May those who died rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity. We, the living vow, to uphold this.”

No history book could have replaced the living history my daughter received when she touched the shackles, the plaque and the dirt ground in the slave castles where they were imprisoned prior to their transatlantic journey to America and Britain. The place from where her forefathers descended. This enriching experience has inspired her to delve into a mission of her own through arts and poetry to bring hope to others and a hunger to succeed to a younger generation, continuing the legacy of Black History Month.