February marks the beginning of the national observation of the history, achievements, and reflections on the current state of our nation from an African-American lens–Black History Month. From its beginnings in 1926, the former Negro History Week was conceived to educate the masses and celebrate the progress of Negroes in the United States. The brainchild of Dr. Carter G. Woodson took foothold in American society and in 1976 was expanded to include the entire month of February, historically corresponding with the birth month of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
Central to Black History Month is the impetus for the furthering of education. Education not simply for repetition or regurgitation but for the building of our culture, communities, and this nation through the understanding of the sorrows and successes, the hindrances and honors, the what has been and the what could be for us as Americans. Twentieth century philosopher, George Santayana speaks to this truth, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” What does this mean and how does it relate to Black History Month? The Black experience in America is not a unique and isolated phenomenon. People all around the world seek their inalienable rights for independence, they cry for economic and social freedom, they stand firm for civil rights, and hold their heads high for individual and collective dignity. But if we fail to respect and recognize one group, to understand their struggles and triumphs, it is easy for the terrors and trials of the past to rear its ugly face upon another group…perhaps your own.
So Black History Month must be more than a national quiz bowl of quick facts or a PowerPoint presentation of cultural curios. American architect John Portman helps us understand the importance of Black History Month and similar commemorations. “We must learn to understand humanity better so that we can create an environment that is more beneficial to people, more rewarding, more pleasant to experience.” In short, the more we know about one another, the more we can identify our common humanity.
Black History Month is not the sole propriety of African Americans. It belongs to all Americans. In fact, it belongs to all of us. As we take this time, let us look past the title and see the timeline of trials, tribulations, and triumphs as a benefit which betters us all. Perhaps one day, through open minds and hearts, we can see light to the words of Morgan Freeman, “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.”
I am…You are…We are…American History!
Guy A. Sims is the author of the novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novella, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim. He is also the head writer of the Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline comic book series and the forthcoming Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation. BCEPressworks.com