It’s that time of year again, when people start complaining about Black History Month. Sure it would be nice if everyone had the opportunity to learn Black history the way I did in Ms. Ramey’s 6th grade class. We didn’t learn it as Black history, but just history. Back then, it was Negro History Week, so there was even less space to unpack a review of the contributions of Black people in America and the rest of the world.
Well, it wasn’t all Ms. Ramey. There was also the book Great Negroes Past and Present, as I’ve said before, it seemed like every house in my neighborhood had a copy. The title should be an indicator of how old it is. It was a book I read year round, and can hardly remember a thing from it. I received a copy not too long ago, and even though it is the 3rd edition, from 1974, it is still filled with fascinating information.
It is hard for me to even think of the American Revolution without the names Crispus Attucks or Benjamin Banneker. If you don’t know them, I’ll resist the urge to upbraid you, and just ask you to find out who they were. After all the purpose of this work isn’t to teach you Black history, but instead the importance of Black History Month.
Negro History Week, starting in 1926, it was purposely attached to Lincoln’s birthday by Carter G. Woodson. Regardless of the challenges it presents to us today, it did more than it was intended to do. It was the first effort that directly challenged the hegemony of White America, that really stuck, paving the way for Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968, Pacific/Asian American week in 1977, Women’s History Week in 1980, all of which were expanded to months in time. Native American Heritage Month was added in 1990, with lesser known heritage months for Italians, German, Jewish, Irish, and Polish to follow suit. It’s not unreasonable that Pride Week follow suit.
All of which I am happy to recognize and celebrate along with them, because that is what I want to determine America’s real destiny to be. With Black History Month leading the way. Yes, we look forward to the day when it isn’t necessary, because we incorporated a fuller more nuanced version of history into our national esthetic. But even then I hope we can continue, because it is good for us to shout about ‘us’ for a month, but it’s just as important that we support other heritages, when it is their turn to grace the national stage.
This is how we work to undo the hegemony (okay, I am going to stop using that word) of the Racist Patriarchy, by constantly putting up the true America to the Myth America that has been offered in its place. We all put our hard work into this nation and we all get to claim it as ours (and yours). I know that these heritage months are efforts at ‘hearts and minds’ which I normally eschew. But given the actual history of these efforts, I think of them more like the antiseptic administered before the patient gets cut open and the cancerous policies and resource allocations that promote racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia and all the other aspects of the Racist Patriarchy that are preventing this nation from being the great nation it is meant to be get cut out.
So as we embark on this year’s Black History Month, in these purposely dimmed times, I ask that you do these two things, that will promote the needed healing in our nation.
- Say it Loud...
- Make it Funky!
~ B.K. Ray, author and agitator
Black History Month reflections from around the community
In the political climate of today; filled with fear and bigotry, we justice seekers are looking for places to speak up and out; places where we might find connection and hope. I find that in community; communities who, even in discomfort, will continue to seek truth and understanding and through education and action live that truth each and every day. I find such a community with the Church Within A Church Movement.
I believe as we come into Black History Month this year, it is imperative that we reflect on who we are as community as well as who we are in our global connections. With that in mind we continue our reflections on BHM – relevancy, personal, and communal.
~ Rev. Vernice Thorn
Black history, American history
One month of celebrating the achievements and accomplishments of a people does not suffice as inclusive American history. Black history is American history. African American history should be recorded in a sequential and consecutive order, not in scattered bits and pieces. Black history should be included in educational history books, and studied by all Americans as it is American history. Black American history is not a separate history unto itself. It is a history deeply rooted in, and inherently tied to, the history of this country.
Given the recent climate of racial unrest in this country, the month of February as Black History Month is still relevant today, because in 2018, long after slavery, Jim Crow, segregation in the South, the Civil Rights Era, and a first-time Black president, African Americans once again, find themselves having to prove to their country and to the world they are human beings. I am excited and thankful for Black History Month, but I’d like to see a stronger push toward required studies and history books that comprise the history of all Americans in a more inclusive way.
~ Brenda Walker
In the beautiful struggle
With Black History Month looming in the shadows, I’m beginning to feel anxious. Not because I don’t believe in the essential nature of this practice and continued ritual, but because I need more . . . more than a month. I need an intentional daily initiative that we are here and have been here since the beginning and you better recognize it!
It’s a struggle to always be the ones educating about us, and yet is imperative that we do so; not just during the month of February, but ongoing throughout the year. Because it is a struggle, my resolve at the end of each email is to remind the receiver that I am “In the beautiful struggle!” When those persons respond, I have an opportunity to let them know about us. Happy Black History!
~ Rev. Benjamin Reynolds, In the beautiful struggle!
I must admit I’m embarrassed to profess this but I can't really say I made the effort to learn how the concept of Black History Month came to be. I find this truth all that more stinging because, 1) I’m African-American, and 2) I'm nearly 50 years old.
But not making the time to learn why and how African-American recognition in the month of February came to be, it didn’t prevent me from devising my own rationale for its existence, given my nearly 50 years of living in the United States of America.
So early on, I convinced myself that the concept of African-American History Month was to showcase the contributions and achievements African-Americans made in this country.
Even back then, I could see this vehicle was desperately needed for, growing up in southeast Texas, there was nothing in our elementary school books that validated African-Americans' contribution to anything, other than civil rights.
It went from slavery, to the American Civil War, and ended with civil rights with nothing else mentioned in between of black people... at all.
But during Black History Month, at those very schools and additionally at my home church, we learned of so many astounding and remarkable achievements African-Americans made in all areas: business, education, the sciences, literature, and government (to name only a few).
Having witnessed this annual celebration of black recognition year after year, the growing question in my young mind at the time was this: Why is none of this in the current history books we're reading now?
So as time passed, I further convinced myself that Black History Month was indeed a cogent vehicle to persuade the “majority” (as well as African-Americans) to see, learn, and respect the contributions African-Americans have made toward the success fabric of this country.
And in the very same breath, in my humble opinion, Black History Month also creates an invitation for the country to learn of, give recognition to, and heal from, its “ugly”:
- Why were these [black] people not recognized?
- Why were their contributions not respected and celebrated in textbooks or elsewhere?
- What forces were at play that “willfully” allowed for the down-playing or outright ignoring of the achievements African-Americans made toward this country's overall welfare... and most importantly why?
I believe that much of the societal progress made by African-Americans is due to the honoring of Black History Month. Meaning that by having to study Black history and the accomplishments African-Americans have made, it forces the participants to try to give answers to those very demeaning, embarrassing, and hurtful questions listed above.
Now the celebration of Black history alone is not going to right-set all the societal wrongs befallen the African-American in this country, but it does help to create the dialogue.
And dialogue, honest dialogue – intentional but respectful, deliberate but compassionate – “dialogue” is where all progress between individuals begin. All one has to do is to RSVP the invitation.
~ Perry Rhone
What do I owe to those who came before me? Because of them, I am.
Will I earn a place to be counted among the numberless? For they did more than live. They paved a way They made high places low, crooked places straight and dark places bright. They died so that I could live and live well.
Harriet’s words ring in my ear: “If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there's shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”
She warns, “Don’t be fooled chile by the current day. The dogs and the torches and the shouting may look different, but they’s still there. If you want just a taste of true freedom, you mus’ keep going.”
And that is what I owe... It is what I render. My commitment to persevere to pave a way to bring high places low, to brighten dark spaces. And die so that others may live and live well.
~ Rev. candi dugas