Why Black History Month is American History Month
“I don’t want a Black History Month. Black History is American History.” Those words uttered by actor Morgan Freeman are as destructive as they are candid and ringing with truth. In 1926, when historian Carter G Woodson started ‘Negro History Week’, he said, “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” Intended to encourage the coordination of the teaching of the history of black Americans in the nations public schools, I’m fairly certain he would have disagreed with Mr. Freeman.
The insurrectionist attack on our nations capitol on January 6, 2021 was an ugly mark in American history, but a clear warning sign of things to come. For decades we, as a collective society, have devalued accountability to the point of near extinction. Getting away with or getting over on are more the order of the day and education and knowledge of the truth is not required. Social media has driven hundreds of millions of people around the world to live in their own bubbles and believe their own truths. Typically crisis, especially of the worldwide nature, tends to bring people together, but, as the pandemic continues for more than a year, taking the lives of, to date nearly 2.5 million people, how together have we become? America is the most innovative country in history and is responsible for 20% of the deaths from Covid-19. A simple Google search will inform that the last pandemic, the Spanish Flu (which did NOT originate in Spain) went from February 1918 to April 1920, killing 50 million people, infecting 500 million, in 4 successive waves. What did we learn from that period in history? Clearly nothing.
Stevie Wonder, in my opinion one of the most prolific artists in music history, wrote the song “Black Man” in 1976 as part of his multi album “Song In the Key of Life”. An 8min. 50 sec anthem to the desire for worldwide interracial harmony and a criticism of racism, his brilliant lyrics highlight the excellence in human achievement by skin color. I had nothing to do with the production of the above Youtube video, I just thought it was perfect for this blog.
I was always told as a young man to “know your history, because how can you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been?” The problem was, after attending some of the best schools, my knowledge of my own history was limited to the little that is taught on Black history. I can remember my mother talking about how school begun each day for her by singing “Lift every voice and sing”, known as the Negro national anthem (now the “Black National anthem in the United States”). That was never taught in schools. At USC, I took a class in Black History, we had 9 students total. It is said that today, over 50% of young black kids don’t even know of the existence of James Weldon Johnsons poem, set to music by his brother, J. Rosamund Johnson, in celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.
In my blog “Gettin woke in DC” https://www.cbactortraveler.com/gettin-woke-in-dc/, I wrote about my experience visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a Smithsonian institution located on the National mall in Washington DC. Knowledge felt like power as I moved through the 10 floors of that expansive building over 2 full days (still mad I didn’t take 3). Affirming that I am “the hopes and dreams of slaves” continues to inspire me, as I feel the spirit of my ancestors hoping and dreaming that someday their offspring may see freedom and opportunity and prosperity. Universal themes. To be loved. To be heard. To be understood. To dream and see them realized. Knowing history enhances all that. The necessity of Black History month is apparent, to serve as a reminder that Black people should know their history, as well as the history of all people.
How do you feel about Black history month?