It’s February, a month recognized as Black History Month across America. Sometimes also called African American History Month, wide-scale public recognition of the history of Black Americans began in 1915 when Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History. In 1926, Negro History Week was established through the ASALH. The commemoration was updated in 1975 and given its current form by an act of Congress and a Presidential Proclamation in 1986. A full history of the public commemoration can be found here. In 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in Washington, D.C.
The largest local effort to promote African American history can be traced to a student of Woodson’s, John Henry Harmon, Jr. Below are Harmon’s obituary and a personal reflection by Harmon’s friend and Reporter Dispatch Associate Editor, James F. Lawrence.
Harmon established the Afro-American Cultural Foundation and was instrumental in creating the Panorama, an annual celebration “to present the facts of the contributions of the Black Community to the nation and also to discover the hidden talents which never had the opportunity of expression.” The first Panorama was held in 1968 in Mount Vernon. By the 1980s it had grown to include numerous programs and performances in many different parts of Westchester throughout the entire month of February. Today, the African American Advisory Board works on the county level to preserve and share black history. They recently produced a guide to relevant historical sites in the county.
You can use the White Plains Collection to learn the “history of history,” but you can also use it to learn about history itself. In addition to maps, records, and books, we have fascinating oral histories with people who tell stories you won’t find written down anywhere. You can listen to their voices on the People & Stories Oral History Project page.
The featured image in the upper left of this post is from the personal collection of Surya Peterson. It shows children gathered at an art fair he produced in the early 1970s on Lake Street in White Plains. Surya continues to promote black cultural heritage and added an oral history our collection. Details and more photos from his collection can be found in our DCMNY Collection.