In Black History Month, the Focus Is on Overcoming Unequal Health Risks

By Irem Ozturan

The theme for Black History Month this year is health and wellness, a longstanding and pressing issue for African Americans, who have suffered race-based health disparities that the Covid-19 pandemic has underscored.

The theme is chosen each year by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, or ASALH, an organization founded in 1915 by the historian Carter G. Woodson, half a century after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. The organization was dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by Black Americans and other people of African descent.

In 1926, Woodson initiated what was then called Negro History Week to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. In the late 1960s, with the rise of the civil rights movement and a growing awareness of Black identity, the week was expanded into Black History Month on some college campuses. President Gerald Ford gave Black History Month official recognition in 1976.

In keeping with this month’s theme, here are some Retro Report videos that explore health and wellness as they relate to Black Americans.

Black Swimmers Overcome Racism and Fear, Reclaiming a TraditionBlack children are six times more likely to drown in swimming pools than white children. This disparity reflects a long history of discrimination and restricted access to swimming facilities, which contributed to the false stereotype that Black people don’t swim. But the African American community has a long history of aquatic traditions. Today, new initiatives are working to reintroduce Black Americans to swimming.

Racial Health Disparities Didn’t Start With Covid: The Overlooked History of Polio

The coronavirus pandemic has been twice as deadly for Black Americans, who have lagged behind white people in receiving vaccines. This is not the first time healthcare access revealed a racial disparity. During the polio outbreak in the 1930s, polio among African Americans often went undiagnosed and patients were segregated and unable to obtain adequate care. The top polio treatment center, founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, admitted only white patients.

Bringing Midwifery Back to Black Mothers

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among wealthy countries, and Black women are three times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. Today, Black parents are increasingly turning to midwifery to improve the odds for maternal and child health.

IREM OZTURAN, an intern at Retro Report, is a journalism and economics student at Northwestern. This article first appeared in Retro Report’s free weekly newsletter. Subscribe and receive lessons from history in your mailbox. Follow us on Twitter @RetroReport.