What does the “Arts” include? It can be a visual art like painting. It includes performing arts, such as acting or dancing. Of course, there is written art — with poems, short stories, and books. Don’t forget music and digital art. In each of these art forms, African Americans have made a major impact. This year’s Black History Month is the perfect time to celebrate. The theme is “African Americans and the Arts.”
Carter G. Woodson created Black History Month. He was a teacher. In 1915, Woodson founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Then he launched “Negro History Week” in February 1926. The Black event has since become “Black History Month.” Each year, the ASALH creates the theme for the celebration.
People of African have been creating art in the United States for hundreds of years. In fact, they were producing artwork on the land even before it was a country. For example, enslaved people wove baskets from grasses in South Carolina in the 1600s. Back then, it was only a colony. Talented weavers continue to show off their craft there today.
“We can still see the unbroken chain of Black art production from antiquity to the present,” said the ASALH.
Art has always been an important form of expression for the Black community. Enslaved people sang while they worked in the fields. It was a way to express their feelings — and hope. By the early 1900s, Black musicians played gospel and blues. Those include Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. In 1973, Clive Campbell created a new of music called hip-hop. Black rappers helped make the art form popular.
The work of Black artists served another purpose. “African American artists have used art to history and community memory,” said the ASALH. For example, enslaved people passed down songs from parents to children. You can hear that in “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” That song has helped preserve Black heritage.
All types of Black artists have shaped U.S. culture. Those include authors, banjo players, cooks, and designers. Each of them has a story to tell. And their stories need to be told. The ASALH said it celebrates African American art to “spotlight the richness of the past and present.”
Updated January 31, 2024, 5:02 P.M. (ET)
By Russell Kahn (Russ)