A month of cultural recognition and celebration

A short reflection on why Black History Month is important to Platteville.

Elizabeth Kaiser graphic

Elizabeth Kaiser graphic

The month of February is Black History Month. During this 28-day period the heritage and history of African Americans are celebrated. Some of the more common names that are remembered are of those African Americans who took a stand within American history, such as Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks and Malcom X. According to the African American History Month website, Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained historian, wanted to raise awareness of the contributions that African Americans made to civilization. He started the Association of the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) and started the first Negro History Week in 1925. By the 1950’s, Negro History Week became an important part of every February. During the United States bicentennial in 1976, Negro Week was expanded to span the whole month of February. 

Though these names are probably some of the most recognized, there are many influential African American individuals who have been passed over in history, especially in Platteville’s history. A few names that should be known in Platteville are Felix, Maria and Rachel because they were slaves that lived within this city. America has a strong history of slavery, which is a discussion that needs to be talked about. Black History Month gives people the chance to learn about the horrific history that they faced and about the people who stood up for equal rights. 

“Black History Month is important because there is a huge lack of historical narratives that are not from a Eurocentric framing. Because of the lack of representation of many marginalized groups historically, I think it’s important to give a perspective of history that is not part of the popular narrative,” ethnic studies professor Dr. Frank King said. 

Assistant professor of history Dr. Eugene Tesdahl explained that illegal slavery took place during the 1820’s lead rush. Henry Dodge, the first territorial governor of Wisconsin illegally brought five slaves with him with the promise of freedom after a short time of work, only to free them almost twelve years later. Dodge was not the only enslaver in Platteville, though. John Rountree was the enslaver of Felix, Maria and Rachel.

Black History Month is not just an opportunity to hear about the past, but it is also an opportunity to learn for the future. The Black Student Union holds many events during the month of February, such as Ebony Weekend, to educate and inform others on campus and in the community. 

“The Black Student Union hosts an annual event called Ebony Weekend. It’s really amazing the work they put in with organizing, inviting speakers and working with other institutions. There has been a wide array of guest speakers that address a multitude of topics. It also gives students of color a space that they can learn and discuss issues pertaining to Black identity,” King said.

Events like Ebony Weekend allow many topics, such as the history of slavery and current news, to be discussed in an educational environment. 

“I hear a lot of people asking ‘why can’t there be a White History Month?’ I think that’s flawed because history textbooks from kindergarten to many college courses are saturated with history that is from a European point of view. We need more accurate portrayals of true history, which many faculty and staff at UW-Platteville do. With Black History Month, we need to recognize that it’s only a month, and we tend to focus on a few individuals. There’s more to it,” King said.

There are multitudes of achievements that African Americans have attained that are remembered during February, some of them being Rosa Parks’ stance on the bus boycott or the civil rights movements that Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. led. Other achievements are novels and art that have been made. 

“I think students get at least a glimmer of the complexity of the experiences of Black folks, that it was not just slavery and segregation and that, when allowed, many Black folks excelled,” King said.

Black history month allows the nation to look back at the amazing achievements that have been made. This month is not just about looking back on slavery.