The purpose of Black History Month
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Almost a century ago, two gentlemen of color who were held in high esteem, Harvard graduate Carter G. Woodson and noted minister Jesse E. Moorland, began an organization whose purpose was to seek out and publicize the achievements of blacks and people of African descent. It was called the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.
Eleven years later, they conceived a national Negro History Week. The idea caught on and quickly became an annual event. Celebrations and events grew over the decades until the 1960s, when it became Black History Month. President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976.
From when it was first thought of up until today, there is one underlying theme as to why we have a black history month. A mere 50 years after the abolition of slavery, a black man who had gone to Harvard University dared to try to spread the word about great things done by black Americans.
Only a few generations after the founding of this country on the ideals of justice and freedom by men who owned slaves, the president of this country said in establishing Black History Month that the nation should "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."
We have Black History Month because the story of people of color in this country is still so hidden. We still have to ferret out the stories - the good, bad and ugly. Not so we can heal or get past it. Not so we can brag or claim superiority. Just so that the story will be told in full.
The saying I'm sure every powerful person has said at one time or another during their reign is that history is written by the victor. It has always been that whoever was left standing was the one who got to say how things went down. So for centuries, everything of significance that was reported about black people - Africans- was told by the very people oppressing, denigrating, undermining, decimating and otherwise abusing said people.
It was centuries before their highest moral and religious authorities would even admit that black people - Africans, had souls and were human the same as (gasp) white people. There are people in this country right now who can remember clearly living under segregation and the inhumane conditions of Jim Crow. There are people right now who are barely one generation out of the sharecropper's shack.
Inevitably, someone will ask why there is no White History Month. The answer is the same reason why we need Black History Month. Every day in every way we are reminded of the story of the white man in this world and in this country. Everywhere we look we see the tangible and the intangible proof of the story of the white man coming to this land and claiming it and the heritage of the United States of America for his own.
Conversely, the story of black people's contributions to the development of the American Heritage was, and still is, deliberately twisted, muted, ignored or downright suppressed in a direct effort to create a sense inferiority and insecurity among a group of people.
So it's really that simple. We continue to have Black History Month until the fullness of our story has been told. How you celebrate Black History Month is another matter. Even a rudimentary search will show you that the breadth of what is meant by Black History Month is vast. The best place to start is to pick an area that interests you. The arts. Politics. Sports. Music. Philosophy. Use that as your portal and then see where it takes you.
Anyone who has tried to teach during Black History Month will tell you that there is simply no way to get enough of it in to do more than put a drop in the bucket. What works best, and what I seek to do over the course of the next three installments of my Black History Month Series is to whet the appetite to encourage each of us to explore on our own and dig out for ourselves why we have every reason to claim the heritage of this country and our place as a people, at home and abroad, on the world stage as the cradle of civilization.
Black History Month serves as a reminder that black history is being made every day. It surrounds us and with some effort and interest the past can be brought to light for the benefit of the present and the future.
- Mariel Blake writes a weekly column for The Daily News.