What once began as Negro History week in 1926 became a month-long celebration in 1976. The original celebration was created by a noted African American historian named Carter Godwin Woodson. Born in 1875 Woodson was also an author and journalist. He was one of the first educators to study African American history and he founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Also, a publisher, Woodson started “The Journal of Negro History” in 1916. Often called “the father of black history” Woodson passed in 1950 but what he started lives on every February. The month of February was chosen because this month is the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass both of whom were instrumental in abolishing the institution of slavery in the United States.
The black population of California is almost two million three hundred thousand. This demographic is approximately six percent of the state’s population. In Sonoma County the black population is around one percent. According to suburbanstats.org there are 7,610 residents out of a total population of almost 484 thousand. Cotati and Rohnert Park mirror the county. Both cities have one percent of population that is black. For Rohnert Park it’s 759 out of 40,971 and for Cotati it’s 122 out of 7,265 residents. This may explain why Black History Month activities and events may not seem as visible in Sonoma County as they are in other parts of the state and country.
Yet there are events in Sonoma County that celebrate the important contributions and history of Black Americans to our country. For example, the Petaluma Historical Library & Museum has a grand opening to their exhibit called “Black History: Remember, Educate, Celebrate” scheduled at 6:30-8 p.m. Feb. 7. The exhibit will run through March 15. Donations of $10 are encouraged but the museum states “no one will be turned away.” Students 18 and under are free. Also, on their event calendar is a lecture on Sun. Feb. 9 by Dr. Kim D. Hester Williams entitled “Black Suffragists” from 1-2:30 p.m. Dr. Hester Williams is a professor of English and American Multicultural Studies at Sonoma State University. The museum is located at 20 4th St. in Petaluma, CA.
Black History events will also be sponsored and celebrated on the campuses of Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University. They range from music performances to lectures and workshops. The Sonoma County Libraries will also have various musical and theatrical presentations which include performances by Santa Rosa’s own Onye Onyemaechi. The founder of Village Rhythms, he shares the beauty and soul of the drum on African village life throughout the county. Event dates, times and locations can be found at:
According to ASALH, the theme this year is “African American and the Vote.” 2020 is the sesquicentennial (150th) for the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) which gave the right to vote to black men after the Civil War. It is also the centennial (100th) for the Nineteenth Amendment (1920) which gave women the right to vote. Thus, the theme represents the struggle of both black men and women to have the right to vote.
Some argue Black History month is no longer needed. We elected a black president. We have famous black entertainers, sports figures, military leaders, politicians and other folks of note. We’ve made much progress in equality, diversity, and reducing discrimination based on the color of your skin, your gender or other factors. But despite our progress as a nation there remains more to be done. As Robert Frost wrote in his poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening: “But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.” That metaphor represents the value of celebrating this month for all of us. To remember. To educate. And to celebrate.