Close your eyes and search your memory. Can you identify when Black History Month is celebrated. How about Women’s History Month? Are you even aware that there is a National Deaf History Month? Likely you recalled that June is Pride Month celebrating Gay and Lesbian History. And even if you couldn’t identify when Asian-American and Pacific Islander History Month or National Hispanic Heritage Month fall in the calendar, you probably have heard of them and maybe even participated in an event or two in your community or at work.
The month of Oct. actually has many different history and heritage celebrations attached to it. On the Oct. 14 some folks celebrated Columbus Day while others celebrated Indigenous People’s Day. So, having the month of Oct. as National Italian American Month might make sense. Whereas National American Indian Month isn’t until Nov. so perhaps Indigenous People’s Day might eventually move to that month. Differently able folks also share the month of Oct. with a National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Oct. is also LGBT History Month.
What do all these months have in common? Well, many of them actually started out not as a month of recognition and celebration but as a day or a week. For example, Black History Month (February) was originally called Negro History Week and started back in 1926. It was created to make visible in our public schools the history and contributions of Black Americans. Since 1979 every president has declared Feb. to be Black History Month.
Hispanic Heritage Month also started out as Hispanic Heritage Week and was established by Legislation that was signed by President Johnson in 1968. It started its celebration week Sept. 15. That date was chosen because five Latin American countries declared their independence in 1821 on that date. They were Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Chile, Belize, and Mexico also celebrate their Independence Day during that week. President Reagan changed it from a week to a full month by proclamation Sept. 14, 1989. Unlike other History Months – this month spans two months. It starts on the traditional Sept. 15 and runs through the Oct. 15.
There is also a local connection for these celebrations you might not know about. Women’s History Month is celebrated in March. It grew out of an International Women’s Day back in 1911. That later grew to be Women’s History Week centered on International Women’s Day events the week of March 8. In 1978 the school district of Sonoma, Ca. participated in Women’s History week. In 1979 Sarah Lawrence College had a two-week conference about women’s history. According to Wikipedia: “When its participants learned about the success of the Sonoma County’s Women’s History Week celebration, they decided to initiate similar celebrations within their own organizations, communities and school districts.” From that local seed, to President Carter’s proclamation in 1980 for a National Week, eventually grew to a full month in 1987.
LGBT History Month was first celebrated in 1994. Again, according to Wikipedia: it “is an annual month-long observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, and the history of gay rights and related civil rights movements.” Oct. was chosen because October 11 observes National Coming Out Day. That day is the anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights 31 years ago. This month and that day in particular is a “reminder that one of our most basic tools is the power of coming out” according to the Human Rights Campaign. They also state “One out of every two Americans has someone close to them who is gay or lesbian. For transgender people, that number is only one in 10.”
From sharing traditions around food, dance and other elements of cultural differences, our knowledge and understanding grows. The underlying purpose of all these celebrations is to raise the visibility and share the contributions to our American tapestry of these minority groups. I hope you get a chance to attend or participate in some of these events throughout the year and take that opportunity to broaden your horizons.