28 Days Is Enough, If Used Wisely
In my travels as a State Senator, it’s somewhat troubling to my spirit when I hear people damningly postulate about Black History Month being in the shortest month of the year and other arguments along this thread. It tells me that even though it has been in existence for almost 100 years; people still lack a comprehensive understanding of the purpose and power of this month-long focus. If so, not only would they appreciate the historical significance of it being celebrated in February but would embrace it as a jumping off point for the spotlight of African American History. Furthermore, they would applaud the fact that Black history is American history.
Carter G. Woodson, a noted Harvard trained historian spent his life trying to get African Americans to know who they were as a people. In so doing, in 1926 he created the weeklong celebration of Negro History in February, this being the birth month of both Frederick Douglas President Abraham Lincoln. In 1976 it was changed to Black History month, the idea now morphing beyond study and education into that of African Americans understanding that they did not come to these shores with a blank slate nor did our history; our culture begin in 1619 with the first ships bringing Africans into enslavement to the shores of America.
The very scholarship inherent in this month’s awareness helps to debunk the lie African Americans had been told that they contributed nothing to the history of the world. Or that in fact, they had no humanity let alone history or culture. So to talk about Black history as American history puts the conversation in a global context with the understanding that the people being spoken about just did not appear out of nowhere. Rather, they came from a specific place — Africa. As such, this month becomes just the place from which we integrate African American history into our lives throughout the year. This allows us to then add other people’s understanding into the conversation thereby spotlighting the beauty and strength of America.
It is noteworthy also that the hardcore battles won my African Americans in this country on their journey to self-determination did not just benefit their population segment. The right to vote, to public education, to government services, housing discrimination based on race and national origin, sex and gender discrimination, workplace sexual harassment are issues that have benefitted marginalized people including but not exclusive to the Latino, Jewish and LGBTQ communities.
If there is any lesson to be learned from black history month is that we cannot be silent if we are to live up to the legacy of those who have gone before us. Keeping in mind that self-determination is the essence of freedom; this month gives us an opportunity to build our lives in our own images and interests not just for the 28 calendar days of February but every day of the year. To draw inspiration from the words and emulate the actions of the pioneers of African American history is to transform our own dreams into true social change.
During his day, Carter G. Woodson dedicated his life to the study of the history of African American people. He viewed this as important because of the blatant attempt to essentially erase our contributions from the face of world history. So though it’s wonderful to talk about the people and places of historical significance, it’s far more important in this point of our history to understand why we celebrate this month and do so in such a way that the voices of our ancestors will be amplified.