February is Black History Month. Although it was not officially recognized by our government until President Gerald Ford acknowledged it in 1976 and stated “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history,” it was not a new idea.
Carter G. Woodson, who has been called the “Father of Black History,” created Negro History Week in 1926. Mr. Woodson was the second black man to receive a PhD in history from Harvard. By working to make society aware of black history he hoped to make white America aware of the contributions blacks had made to the creation of America. He wanted to show that blacks deserved to be treated equally as citizens.
Growing up as a white person I only heard the history of a few blacks and what I heard was very limited. There was Harriet Tubman who led many slaves to freedom on the Undergrown Railroad and George Washington Carver who I was told discovered peanut butter (not true). That was about the sum of my education on black history.
I wonder how much the average white person really knows of the accomplishments of blacks in our country. Even more, I wonder how much we really know about the bitter treatment we have given to them in our nation’s history.
Let me ask you: do you know any of these people or what role they played in our nation’s history?
- Phyllis Wheatley
- P.B.S. Pinchback
- Booker T. Washington
- Langston Hughes
- Lois Mailou Jones
- Dorothy Vaughan
- Mary Jackson
- Katherine Johnson
- Christine Darden
- W.E.B. DuBois
- James Amistead Lafayette
I could go on and on. The list is endless.
I quote from the National Museum of African-American History and Culture:
You can tell a great deal about a country and a people by what they deem important enough to remember, to create moments for — what they put in their museum and what they celebrate. In Scandinavia — there are monuments to the Vikings as a symbol of freedom and the spirit of exploration. In Germany during the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis celebrated their supposed Aryan supremacy through monument and song. While America traditionally revels in either Civil War battles or founding fathers. Yet I would suggest that we learn even more about a country by what it chooses to forget — its mistakes, its disappointments, and its embarrassments. In some ways, African American History month is a clarion call to remember. Yet it is a call that is often unheeded.
We recently celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It was interesting how many of us posted his comments on love not hate and peace not civil discord. All very good things to remember. But where were his other quotes?
“As the nation, Negro and white, trembled with outrage at police brutality in the South, police misconduct in the North was rationalized, tolerated, and usually denied.” Leaders in Northern and Western states “welcomed me to their cities, and showered praise on the heroism of Southern Negroes. Yet when the issues were joined concerning local conditions, only the language was polite; the rejection was firm and unequivocal.”
Speaking two years after the terrible Watts riots of 1965, Dr. King said this:
Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. … But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.
May I encourage you to look up some of these people listed above or do a search on Google to learn more about the all great contributions in our nation’s history that blacks have made — and become more aware of their story.
One quote of MLK I did not see on any of my friend’s posts says it all I think.