This is a transcript of Dr. Lewis' interview with University of Michigan News. For the origingal audio, listen here.

Director of the U-M Center for Social Solutions Earl Lewis on the Importance of Black History Month

Long before earning a PhD in American history and becoming a university professor I learned the importance of Black History Month.

I was a kid in Virginia growing up in the segregated South and in February - for the first week in February - in the 1960’s we celebrated the inclusion and the importance of African Americans in the history of the United States and the world.

Black History Month was founded by Carter G. Woodson, and Carter G. Woodson believed in the importance of actually righting a wrong. That wrong was that African peoples had not contributed to American history and society let alone the broader world.

He wanted to say to all - no stop, look and read. Learn about the men and women and children who invented, who created, who produced, and reproduced elements that really changed the ways in which we came to live in this world. That was the way I learned black history and that was important to me. And so it was not until the 1970’s that black history week became black history month. That month becomes so important because now it’s celebrated not only in the United States and Canada but parts of Europe like the Netherlands and Ireland and it’s reflective of the fact that we’re talking about the broader African diaspora. We’re talking about the Carribean, we’re talking about Africa, we’re talking about parts of Europe all the way to Australia. That encompasses what it means to talk about black history month. 

And in a way it’s really relevant today.  Because in the curricula wherever you go to school, students keep reminding me that for many of them African Americans show up as people who were enslaved, African Americans show up again around the Civil War. They show up again in the 1940s and 50s during the civil rights movement and now after the election of President Obama they may show up in the moment of Obama’s presidency.

But that to me is not all of African American history. And Black History Month is a way for us to actually begin to fill in those gaps, to read, to learn, to understand that African Americans and people of African descent have been critically important for the history of the world and the ways in which we understand ourselves in time.