History Book – Black History Month, and the human genome

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD History Book. 

This week, the birth of the black history movement, the ending of a grim chapter for Asian-Americans, and a watershed moment in the field of human genomics. Here’s WORLD senior correspondent Katie Gaultney.

KATIE GAULTNEY, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: We’re halfway through February: Black History Month. But this month started out as just a week. February 14th, 1926, was the last day of the first Negro History Week, spearheaded by American historian, author, and journalist Carter G. Woodson. 

The Library of Virginia highlighted Woodson’s efforts to combat a sense among black and white Americans at the time that African descendants hadn’t made any contributions to civilization. 

TAMEKA BRADLEY HOBBS: He’s going to point out all of those fallacies and really try to give the black community a rallying point around which to push their efforts…

Woodson chose the second week of February because it coincided with the births of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. By 1970, some institutions observed Black History Month, and in 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized the celebration during the United States Bicentennial.

But honey-voiced actor Morgan Freeman is among a growing contingent who oppose Black History Month. He told 60 Minutes’ Mike Wallace why in 2005. 

FREEMAN: I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history./ How are we going to get rid of racism—/ Stop talking about it! I’m gonna stop calling you “a white man,” and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me “a black man.” 

Turning now to World War II. 

ROOSEVELT: Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy. The United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…

That’s President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his address declaring war on Japan. The bombing of Pearl Harbor flared existing prejudicial attitudes toward Asians in America. Two and a half months after the attack, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. It’s only been 45 years since February 19, 1976, when President Gerald Ford formally repealed that order. 

While the order was in place, it allowed the U.S. Army to designate areas from which “any or all persons may be excluded.” That expanded into the War Relocation Authority, with 10 permanent camps to house over 100,000 people of Japanese descent in the U.S. The government released a film in 1944 in an attempt to justify the wartime decision.

FILM: Their evacuation does not imply individual disloyalty, but was ordered to reduce a military hazard at a time when danger of invasion was great.

Native-born American citizens made up two-thirds of those interned at the camps. The rest were their Japan-born parents and grandparents. George Takei, known as an actor on Star Trek, was a young boy when soldiers removed his family from their Los Angeles home. He remembered his relocation in a PBS documentary: 

TAKEI: We were taken to the horse stables and thinking back now, I can’t imagine how degrading and humiliating it must have been for my parents to take their three children—one a baby—from a two-bedroom home and told to sleep in that narrow, smelly horse stall… 

In December 1944, Roosevelt suspended Executive Order 9066. The government released incarcerates, and shut down the camps entirely by 1946. Thirty years later, in formally repealing the order, Ford wrote, “We now know what we should have known then—not only was that evacuation wrong, but Japanese-Americans were and are loyal Americans.”

We’ll end today on a high note, with what’s sure to be one of the most major scientific breakthroughs of the 21st century. Twenty years ago today, on February 15th, 2001, an international consortium of scientists achieved a major milestone. That’s when they published the first draft of the complete human genome in Nature magazine. The name “Eric Lander” appeared first on the list of authors. He spoke at his research home—the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—in 2001. 

LANDER: The Human Genome Project was an absolutely ludicrous notion proposed in about 1985… that we could determine the entire sequence of the human genome, and that this would provide incredibly useful information for all of biology. 

Useful information like finding the genetic roots of disease and then developing treatments. Scientists called the effort to sequence the human genome “biology’s moonshot.” The draft sequence covered more than 90 percent of the human genome. The Human Genome Project freely and immediately released its findings to the world through public databases online. 


After some research fine-tuning, the effort to sequence the human genome concluded in April 2003. It remains the world’s largest collaborative biological project. 

That’s this week’s History Book. I’m Katie Gaultney.

(Photo/Human Genome Project)

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