(Note: In recognition of Black [aka African American] History Month, I republish my blog post of February 1, 2015. Characteriologically, I am a person who, in regard to nearly every subject, great and small, upon initial and second thought, consideration and reconsideration, changes his mind, at times, multiply within short spans of time. However, the following word still rings true in my mind and heart, soul and spirit.)
In 1976, as a part of the United States Bicentennial Celebration, Black History Month was recognized by the federal government as an annual occasion, in the words of then President Gerald Ford, to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Black History Month’s forerunner, Negro History Week, was established in 1926 by historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Observed in the second week of February, coinciding with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, February 12 and 14, respectively, dates since the late 19th century held in honor in black communities, Negro History Week focused on advancing the teaching and study of black history in public schools.
As a 60-something African American educated in St. Louis public schools, I remember the dearth of system-authorized black history instruction. This glaring deficiency was addressed in content and assuaged in spirit by the committed efforts of my nuclear and extended families and my elementary school teachers, all who, in collaboration conscious or unawares, fulfilled my grandmother Audia’s proclamation: “Paul, to know yourself, you must know your people’s history.”(1) Hence, I have an elemental, perhaps eternal affinity for Black History Month.
More expansively, for America (which, I believe, has still to incarnate the dream of Langston Hughes, who, speaking for all peoples, native and immigrant, white and black, said, “O, let America be America again; the land that never has been yet, and yet must be; the land where every man is free”) to know herself, she must know her black people’s history.
Still, as a pluralist who rejoices in our racial diversity and as an inclusivist who equally relishes our common humanity, my inner inquisitor wonders, worries about Black History Month. How fair is it to the concept of our universal humanness to dedicate a month or any period of time to the history of any one race? And how fair is it to relegate the study of black history to any period when my people’s history, a vivid, inerasable thread in the rich tapestry of our national being and becoming, is American history?
Yet, as Langston’s prophecy remains to be fulfilled, I continue to pray in his words:
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
As I believe that true equality is achieved in real part when all of us know the histories of each of us, I will commemorate and celebrate Black History Month.
(1) My aunt, Evelyn Hoard Roberts, a college English professor, cherishing the idea and the ideal of interdisciplinary and interracial (that is, shared, not separate) approaches to education, in 1977, published American Literature and the Arts Including Black Expression.
6 thoughts on “Black History Month”
Awesome, thank Paul you for the History lesson on our History. Black History. I pray our young people will read and study our/ their History. If they would humble themselves and learn where we came from and how brilliant our ancestors were, I think Love ❤️, Respect and Manners will be restored. And they would concentrate on Education and stop the-destructive behavior.
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Thank you, Minnie. There is, indeed, always is much work for us (all people, of course, yet, surely, people of color – and I say this in the light of our historical and ongoing struggles for equality in the American land and elsewhere) to do in educating ourselves and our future generations to be mindful of the times from whence we have come. If the past is an – any! – indicator of the joys and difficulties of the present (as I believe it is), to be unmoored from and ungrounded in our history necessarily makes the trials and tribulations all the more severe and, perhaps, unconquerable. Let us always remain vigilant – knowing our history, thus, knowing ourselves, who we are and where we are going. Much love
Thank you for highlighting the beginning of Black History Month in your blog. I very much appreciate the reminder, particularly in these divided and dangerous times, that we need to dedicate ourselves to an understanding of the history that undergirds and involves all of the various peoples in our land, particularly those whose lives and dignity are still marked by oppression and prejudice.
May I ask a favor of you? As much as I reject the idea that it is the responsibility of my African-American brothers and sisters to take on the task of educating me and other white people about African-American history and culture, I would love to know from you, my friend, what one or two works in the African-American canon of literature, history, social and politican commentary YOU would hold up as necessary for ANY American to encounter and to study in order to begin to be enlightened as to African-American experience in America. Although I have made and do make it a point to read works by African-Americans, they have been mostly more modern writers. I feel a need to go back and pick up some of the classic African-American writing of earlier times, and I would love some guidance as to where to begin, if you would be willing to weigh in with some suggestions. Thank you for considering this request.
I offer a link to a column in the NYTimes today dealing with Langston Hughes that you may have already read, but, if not, I think you would be interested in reading it. Here it is: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/01/opinion/langston-hughes-birthday.html?&moduleDetail=section-news-5&action=click&contentCollection=Opinion®ion=Footer&module=MoreInSection&version=WhatsNext&contentID=WhatsNext&pgtype=article
Thank you again, Paul, for reprinting this post. I wish you a rich and fulfilling Black History month. I wish the same for all Americans.
With much love,
Karen, I thank you for you and your alway sensitive and perceptive commentary. As for your hesitancy, as a white person, in seeking literary referrals from a black person, fear not, for I trust you and your intentions.
Concerning works in the African American canon that matter to me, I recommend the self-named “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and “The Souls of Black Folk” by W. E. B. Dubois…additionally, “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man” by James Weldon Johnson, and nearly anything by James Baldwin. Doubtless, there are more and other writings of note, yet these come freely and first to mind.
Thank you for the link.
Thank you, Paul. Although I have read some of James Baldwin’s works (and Emilia is deeply immersed now in reading Baldwin after starting with Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone and being blown away by it). I have not read the other books you recommended. I will start with them. I really appreciate your perspective.
Thanks and love,
Thank you again, Karen, for taking my recommendations to heart – and, again, I thank you for asking. Please give my best regards to Emilia. Baldwin’s TMHLTTBG is, for me, still quite the explosive read; its themes continuing to resonate in our ongoing interracial dialogue of being and living. Much love to you and Ted