It was historian Carter G. Woodson who conceived the idea of a designated period to acknowledge the contributions of African Americans in the making of America. The year was 1926, and the celebration took place over one week. According to http://www.africanamericanhistorymonth.gov/about.html (accessed January, 2014), ‘The response was overwhelming: Black history clubs sprang up; teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils; and progressive whites, not simply white scholars and philanthropists, stepped forward to endorse the effort.’ In 1976, African American History Week became a month-long celebration, and President Gerald Ford urged the nation to honor those accomplishments of African Americans that are all too often neglected in our mainstream history studies.
If truth be told, however, Woodson’s reasons for creating a time of such recognition in 1926 do not seem as relevant or as pressing in 2014.Martin Luther King’s contributions are now recognized as a federal holiday. This country now has a Harvard-educated, African-American man at the pinnacle of leadership. Though this country’s race relations are nowhere near ideal, we can celebrate many victories over a horrific past of slavery and institutionalized oppression. Perhaps as a consequence of those victories, there areblog readers who will skim this article before moving forward, taking a measure of pride in the fact that their history curriculum includes George Washington Carver, as well as Harriett Tubman, Martin Luther King, and perhaps even Frederick Douglass and/or Booker T. Washington. Eachof those viewerswill, in his own way, say something along the lines of, “I got this,” and skip to the next article. What, then, is the significance of Black History month in this new millennium? I thought to offer my own perspective regarding why this type of celebration is not only relevant, but also necessary.
Spiritually, African-American history is significant for the same reason that all histories are significant: they are a part of God’s story. We live in a country where the message of Jesus Christ is increasingly associated with a certain sect of our national community, and sometimes even considered the exclusive right of certain political parties. But God’s Word was clear regarding the intent of His message: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.(Matthew 28:19) He never tells us to go and talk to only those who look like us, or who make us comfortable because we fit in well. Additionally, consider this: people do not care what you know until they know that you care. So, if we are to be effective in carrying out the Great Commission, we must treat people as if they matter. They matter to God; we matter to God, and we are all grafted into God’s family. In addition, much of the Bible occurred in the continents of Africa and Asia. The first Bible in the English language was hand-written in 1396. Does that say anything about God’s plan for His message? It included everyone. We do ourselves a disservice to limit our hearts and heads to only those who look like us. Moreover, we do our God a disservice, as we are not fully living out His will.
Not only was God’s plan for individual salvation made clear, but God’s collective plan for nations to come to Him is also relevant, and worthy of our attention. Consider the following poem written in ~1767 by poet Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American poet to be published:
On being brought from Africa to America.
‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither fought now knew,
Come view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.
This country, like all countries, has a number of dark moments in the course of its history. Those periods are hard to read, hard to accept as real, and even harder to teach to our children. Life would be easier if we could just forget about the darker moments and substitute a revisionist version of the founders, the pilgrims, and then jump to the first Thanksgiving dinner. But that would not help us understand the need for repentance as a nation; it would not give us a glimpse of God’s amazing grace.Ms. Wheatley offers us the proper perspective on how we should view our history; so do Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28. If we can teach American history—all of American history—with an understanding that God had a plan, even when the sins of man countered with His nature, then we will have succeeded in doing what Christian education ought to do: point our students back to a wise and loving Father who is able to transform even the most catastrophic circumstances into an opportunity for His glory.
As we embrace an era where leaders and their associated accomplishments come in all colors, the significance of Black History Month (February), Hispanic Heritage Month (mid-September through mid-October), and even Women’s History Month (March) might be overshadowed by the many trials of a given day. However, there are those who will not choose to skim this article; they want to know. This reader understands our changing world and our changing economy, and wants to educate children who can thrive within it. This reader can distinguish discussions regarding race from racist discussions, and strives to teach children character and integrity of all kinds of heroes and heroines, regardless of their skin’s melanin percentage. Finally, there are those who understand the plan of God, and want to teach it, want to live it, and want to love it.To those who have skimmed to this point, I pray God’s blessings. To this latter group, however, I say, “Happy African American History Month,” and happy learning and growing.