When we hear the term, Black History Month, most Americans think of Martin Luther King Jr., Harriette Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and other influential Black Americans. Some think of great Black inventors like George Washington Carver, Madame CJ Walker, and Elijah McCoy. Some think of events like the Civil Rights Movement and other moments in U.S. History that Black Americans played a large role in. Why do most Americans think about these people and events during Black History Month? Likely because this is what many of us have been taught in school during February. But there is so much more to Black History that is not taught, yet it is the core of American History.
As a Black American, I am not moved by the idea of Black History Month. Please allow me to explain. I don’t just think of Black History for those 28 days during February. I live it 365 days a year. My reality of Black History is my life as a child born in the sixties, during the civil rights movement, before Martin Luther King’s assassination.
When I think of Black History, I think of my experiences with racism growing up. I think of the stories of discrimination my father shared of his life born and raised in Alabama. I think of our family’s migration to the north to flee the extreme racism of the southern states. I also think of the stories my father shared with me about his grandmother’s enslavement and the stories that she passed down to him. As a kid, I always wondered why this type of Black History was never taught in school. Early on I realized I could not rely on the school system to teach Black History — at least not truthfully and completely.
It wasn’t until 1976 when Alex Haley’s book Roots was released and the television series was later aired, our country learned of a more complete Black History. But Alex Haley didn’t just share Black History with America; he revealed a U.S. History that many Americans had never known about. If you were not fortunate enough to have parents or grandparents that handed down the part of U.S. History revealed in Roots, you were left in the dark. Slavery was never mentioned in school when I grew up, nor were any of the atrocities of this country’s history. Before Roots, our school system avoided this part of American History. It largely still does today.
Like many Americans, when I saw the Roots television series for the first time, I was glued to the screen. As children, we went back to school, and we discussed what we saw. We discussed U.S. History on our walks to school and on the playground. We discussed U.S. History at the lunchroom tables and in the breakfast line. U.S. History was at the forefront of many discussions in 1976, which was also our country’s Bicentennial.
It was an eye-opening and awakening time for America. It was also the first year that a U.S. President designated February as Black History Month, although the origins began sixty-years prior. But over time, the public conversations of this history faded, and now it’s reserved for a single month of the year, which we call Black History Month.
Sometimes I feel like the term Black History Month is an insult. The idea that Black Americans have been assigned a single month, and the shortest month, to be treated with slightly less disrespect than we were the month prior.
I wish that America and the education system would acknowledge Black History with the same respect and truth as it does “U.S. History.”
The great thing about modern technology is that the information is easily accessible today. Therefore, I encourage everyone reading this to use Black History Month as a reminder to research unbiased U.S. History and the huge role Black Americans play in it. Websites like The History Channel, www.history.com, and the Smithsonian Institute are a good starting point. But don’t stop there, continue to research our U.S. History year-round. The more we know about the past, the better we can prevent the worst parts of it repeating.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Last updated: February 9, 2021, 8:00AM