Monthly Archives: February 2013

Thoughts on Black History Month

The month of February is designated as Black History Month, or African-American History Month. African-American historian Carter G. Woodson is widely credited for creating and championing the original celebration in 1926, which was known as “Negro History Week”. This week-long observation was held during the second week of February because it covered the birthdays of both President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.  Woodson hoped that the holiday would someday be eliminated when African-American history was recognized as fundamental to American history.  In 1976, the federal government recognized the expansion from Negro History Week to Black History Month. In doing so, President Gerald Ford encouraged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”[1]

In addition to recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of African-Americans, Black History Month is an important reminder of how far our Nation has come and how much remains left to be done to ensure equality for all.  The year 2013 marks two significant anniversaries impacting African Americans and the United States: the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, thereby proclaiming that all slaves in the confederate territories be forever free. Because the fight between the Union and the Confederacy was raging on, Lincoln’s Proclamation did little to immediately free those enslaved, but it progressed the self-emancipation movement and further cemented the idea for the Union that the war was one against slavery.

Even though the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, having studied cases like Strauder v. West Virginia, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, and Loving v. Virginia, in law school, we know that for the next 100 years and beyond, the majority of African-Americans were not treated as equals in daily living or under the law.  On August 28, 1963, hundreds of thousands of Americans of all races, ages and religions came to Washington, D.C. to march for the end of legal segregation and discrimination in the United States.  Ultimately, they marched to the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 followed shortly thereafter.

President Barack Obama’s January 21, 2013 inauguration ceremony on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was a wonderful reminder that the ultimate glass ceiling in this country for African-Americans has been broken.  While we can all agree that our Nation has a long way to go to achieve true equality on issues of race, gender, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, and religion, we are moving forward in the right direction.

I’ll end with my favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. quotation – “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

— Written by Joshua J. Kindkeppel, President of the Dane County Bar Association and shareholder at Eustice, Laffey, Sebranek & Auby, S.C.

[1] The following sources were used in preparing this column: Association for the Study of African American Life and History website,; Paul Brest, et al., Processes of Constitutional Decision Making: Cases and Materials (4th ed. 2000); and Wikipedia articles on Black History Month, Carter G. Woodson, the Emancipation Proclamation, Frederick Douglass, and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.