Many of us know that February was chosen because Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln have birthdays, this month. The observation began in 1926 as Negro History Week by historian Dr. Carter Woodson. Because the special celebration was so popular, it was expanded to the whole month.
New York historian Dr. Allen Ballard once wrote that Black History Month had the goal of educating the American populace and to provide black people an emotional and intellectual “anchor” in an environment of overt racism, segregation, and displays of white superiority.
Unfortunately, Black History Month is mostly commemorated as some sort of official trivia list of major people and events in the long struggle for equality. History is more than a quick Internet “slideshow” of factoids for superficial consumption. History isn’t just a sugar-coated list we trot out to acknowledge something special.
The movers and shakers of African American ancestry didn’t work exclusively for black America, alone. Leaders like Martin Luther King, Junior took on issues that affect all Americans in addition to black Americans. Violence, war, discrimination, and civil rights are ultimately important to everybody. King’s ideals are still held in high regard by activists in current civil rights struggles of all types.
The story of blacks in America is a centuries-long struggle of people suffering through slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, acceptance, civil rights, and full integration into all aspects of American life. This history encompasses the family histories of countless people.
I have learned many fascinating things from my African American friends. Their family histories go back earlier than the forced immigration of their ancestors who were subjected to totally involuntary servitude. My friends are as proud of their African heritage as I am about my European roots. These friends have incredible stories about resilience and belief in the goodness of all people.
The celebration of Black History Month should be expanded beyond what we have today. Most non-blacks only think of people like Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Junior. While these amazing individuals are very important, the inclusion of people from all walks of life should also be stressed.
A casual skimming of current events shows us that blacks and other minorities are still oppressed in many ways. Radicals and racists are working to dial back the hard-won gains of the civil rights era. The unequal treatment of blacks and other minorities by police and the criminal justice system, in some areas of the country, bear witness to oppression.
The rich well of Black History can serve to inspire current leaders and activists in their efforts to secure equality for every single American. The celebration of Black History Month not only recognizes the past; it honors the present and future generations of all Americans.