Happy Black history Month! The father of Black History, Dr. Carter G. Woodson created Negro History Week in 1926 in order to have “people of all ethnic and social backgrounds [to] discuss the black experience” (ASALH). In 1986, Congress passed “National Black history Month” into law stating that “the foremost purpose of Black History Month is to make all Americans aware of this struggle for freedom and equal opportunity” (Library of Congress).
I’ve taken many African American Studies courses during college and I can tell you that it changed my life! Not because I was learning about the uncensored history of my race since their first step on American soil for the first time in my 20 year education. Oh no. Finally learning that Black people had a history blew my mind as much as realizing that history, much like beauty, is in fact in the eye of the beholder.
Look at the name history. It’s literally “Hi[s] Story”. Fun fact, every form of slavery that’s existed during humankind from the enslaved Israelites by the Egyptians to enslaved Africans in the Trans Atlantic Slave trade all had one thing in common. Captors prevented enslaved people from learning how to read and write. Although punishments for reading and writing were harsher depending upon the captors, the idea was to prevent any other narrative than theirs from being told.
Thus, all history and particularly American History is the “story” of those who held the ability to document their experience and not the experience of those they physically, mentally, and emotionally abused daily. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but that is the history of America and to not teach about it continues to erase the black experience from existence and perpetuates a false narrative of American History.
Now then, if talk of slavery or any of this makes you uncomfortable in the least, please take a second and ask yourself why. If any of this makes you think your child/children should not have to learn about how the black experience is woven into the fabric of American History, also ask yourself why. Then please ask yourself why, if this was in fact the case, was your first response to side with slave owners and not the many abolitionists that fought to end slavery.
Hence why the of teaching Black History year round is an absolute necessity. American History should teach everyone that an entire race of people were not and are not inferior, to teach slavery through the accurate lense of those who wrongfully enslaved a race of men, women, and children, those who helped enslaved Africans obtain their freedom, that, that Black History is more than the famous people that made a difference, that the black experience is really the American experience, and that we can do far more together than apart.
George Santayana once said ‘to know your future you must know your past’. It’s clear that history has a way of repeating itself. Never thought I see another fanny pack after 1993, yet here we are. Learning and understanding Black History equips us with knowing that the police system in this country started when slave owners paid poor white men to keep an eye on and regulate the actions of enslaved individuals. Without ever learning that and using the information wisely, the police could eventually have locations in every city or town and regulate the descendants of enslaved people and shoot or even kill them with impunity. Oh wait…(#AmirLocke).
Speaking of police brutality, it gives me great hope to see kids of all races in the street protesting no-knock warrants and the unnecessary violence of police is cities around the country. However, children have made their way to the streets and brought about change through their efforts since the 1960s. The Birmingham Children Crusade of 1963, featured thousands of children and young people who participated in multiple non-violent protests and demonstrations.
Although they remained peaceful and non-violent through the streets of Birmingham, AL, police officers were not and cameras caught grown men spray children with powerful water hoses, hit them batons, threaten them with police dogs as well as arrest and detain kids as young as seven for days. Seeing children treated this way, however, brought national attention to what was happening in Birmingham, and how Black people were being treated across the South. This event became one of the major factors in the success of the Civil Rights Movement, one that directly affected change. A year later, President Lyndon B. Johnson sighed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with Martin Luther King, Jr. by his side.
Black history is American history. If you’re a fan of women and women’s rights, you might want to take an interest in Dorothy Heights. We’re all familiar with the distinguished gentlemen of black history and civil rights, commonly referred to as the “Big Six”. Black History Month is here to recognize their female counterpart, the Shirley MacLaine of the Rat Pack and the only female organizer of the March on Washington where MLK famously delivered his I Have A Dream Speech. Heights was also the representative for the only women’s organization featured at the pivotal civil rights event.
Unsung heroes who paved the way for many of our normalized attitudes of today who had to be the first to say, this ain’t right. For instance, you know that document you have to sign before a medical procedure can be done to take and test any tissues or cells from your body? Today’s common sense notion of informed consent is thanks in part to Henrietta Lacks. Although her infamous ovarian cancer cells increased exponentially and provided advancements in the drug treatment of polio, Parkinson’s and leukemia, the HeLa cells were taken and used in countless medical research studies for decades without her consent or financial compensation to her family. That’s messed up, and we don’t ever have to worry about today because of her.
If any of that was new information for you, I think we can agree that one-month, especially the shortest month of the entire year, may not be enough time to learn critical aspects of Black History and should instead be taught as plain and simple American History. Let’s be honest, even what is taught about Black History throughout these 28 days is merely a morsel of the black experience and the struggle for freedom and opportunity, which is the main point of the celebration.
Black History is American History. It is not critical race theory and should definitely not be left out of the any conversation or teachings that pertain to the accurate retelling of this country’s development. Luckily we have the power to vote for school board members who will teach children about our nation’s history truthfully in this year’s upcoming elections. Click here if you need to register to vote. If you’re already registered, look up and research the views of the nominees and make sure they mandate Black History be taught year round.