WASHINGTON, DC—Saying the time had come for America to recognize "some of its most unsung heroes," President Bush issued a statement Tuesday announcing the creation of Black History Month History Week, which is to be held in the last seven days of February and will honor the men and women who pioneered the commemoration of Black History Month.
"From Monday, February 19, to Sunday, February 25, I invite the American people to join Laura and me in remembering those who made a difference in remembering those who made a difference in the rich history of this great land of ours," read Bush's statement. "People like Cleveland Mayor Michael White, who recited Martin Luther King, Jr's famous 'I Have A Dream' speech during Black History Month in 2004; event planner Sheila Carter, whose passion and determination forever changed the face of commemorating civil rights in America; and, of course, the Father of Black History Month, Gerald Ford, who first signed [Black History Month] into law."
"Without the achievements and sacrifices of these brave folks, it's hard to imagine where African Americans would be today—especially during February," the statement continued. "We must never, ever take Black History Month for granted."
All four major television networks are planning to preempt Black History Month programming with airing Black History Month History Week specials every weeknight. The networks have scheduled more than two dozen 30-second profiles of various Black History Month pioneers, including Annette Van Stijn, a former CBS News producer who created the first Black History Month network interstitial spots in 1980, and William Thorndike III, the first man to register the domain name "BlackHistoryMonth.com."
PBS, meanwhile, will air a two-part Ric Burns documentary on the towering Black History Month figure, documentary maker Ken Burns.
"No one has done more to bring black history to the average viewer during Black History Month than Ken Burns," Burns said. "I only hope I can do justice to the artful way he illuminated black history's giants by illuminating one of Black History Month's giants."
President Bush and the First Lady are scheduled to hold a Black History Month History Week reception, to be hosted by Greg Gumbel, in the White House East Room on Feb. 23. The gala event will honor a number of guests including Portland, OR fifth-grade teacher Jo Bishop, who has what is considered to be the largest collection of Black History Month stamps, Carl Johnson, the first black director of a Black History Month TV special, and Hallmark illustrator Mark Spencer, who created over 250 Black History Month–themed greeting-card designs.
The reception will also include a meal prepared by New Orleans chef Emeril Lagasse and a blues performance by Eric Clapton. The evening will conclude with the unveiling of a new commemorative coin commemorating the first-ever Black History Month commemorative coin, and a keynote address by Sidney Poitier biographer James Shimkus.
Black History Month History Week has not gone without controversy, however. Some southern school districts are refusing to acknowledge it, and some black activists have criticized the lack of minorities being honored.
"Where's the fanfare for those tireless African-American booking agents representing the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, whose dedication and perseverance ensured that this country would have to listen to two of Black History Month's most important spokespeople?" Nation Of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan said. "Black History Month history is made all throughout February, not just in one week of it."
"It's no surprise that the white man chose the last week of the shortest month to honor Black History Month," Farrakhan continued.
Former president Bill Clinton took a break from Black History Month celebrations at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater to praise the move, but called on Bush to designate the last Wednesday of every February as Black History Month History Week History Day.
"While this certainly is long overdue, we must not forget those leaders and elected officials of our past who set the stage for the creation of Black History Month History Week," Clinton said. "Only then will the contributions of these amazing Americans truly be honored."