Black History Needs More Than a Month

We attend a predominately African-American church in the city–a large church located in the middle of the “hood,” a church with an eye for social justice and community uplift. Celebrating the contributions of people who look like us is a regular, integral portion of our time together. Yet as I grow older, I realize how easy it is to take an opportunity such as we have for granted. On last Sunday morning, as one example, I watched as a group of beautifully melanated praise dancers performed to black gospel artist Jonathan McReynolds’ “Cycles.” We sang as a congregation “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” otherwise known as the Negro National Anthem. And I thought about the numbers of people–black, white, brown, or otherwise–who might not know or understand the struggle or the victory expressed in those words. I also thought about the number of well-meaning television programs I watch during this time of year, and how many comments–verbal or written–can be summarized as, “I never knew about this!” The stories, in many cases, are not hidden treasures; they simply exist one level below the somewhat romanticized tales of the “fabulous four”–Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is no one person’s or group’s fault that there are so many holes in our collective knowledge of black history. The internet makes closing the gap between ignorance and awareness easier than it has ever been. Moreover, being a self-made scholar is incumbent upon an inspired learner of any color. BUT…you don’t know what you don’t know, and the sad truth is that because of the systemic racial bias in the way American history is commonly taught, many of us might never know.

African-American history needs more than a month–not because our story is more important than anyone else’s, but because our story is everyone else’s. African-American history is American history. Our blood, in the person of one Crispus Attucks, is permanently intertwined with this country’s inception:

“the first to defy, the first to die.”

” the first to pour out his blood as a precious libation on the altar of a people’s rights.”

-Transcript: “The Trial of William Wemms, James Hartegan, William M’Cauley, Hugh White, Matthew Killroy, William Warren, John Carrol, and Hugh Montgomery, soldiers in his Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot, for the murder of Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Patrick Carr, on Monday-evening, the 5th of March, 1770, at the Superior Court of Judicature, Court of Assize, and general goal delivery, held at Boston.”

Abigail Adams, wife of our second President John Adams, stated the same in observing the irony in the American fight for independence:

“It always appeared a most iniquitous scheme to me — to fight ourselves for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have.”

So here we are in the month of February, more commonly known to some as black history month. It is a time to celebrate on a grander scale the contributions of a larger population than is commonly learned in American history. Personally, I love the additional focus on African-American presence and contributions. I love singing our national anthem, even if our kids don’t yet see the power of the words, or a real need to learn them; they grew up in a different reality than I did or those before me. But I also await the day when our history will be so well integrated into the education of all people until black history is, indeed, more than a month. Or in the words of another famous African-American,

Won’t it be wonderful when black history and native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.

Poet, singer, dancer and activist Maya Angelou


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2 thoughts on “Black History Needs More Than a Month

  1. So beautifully written..thank you! I started teaching my children “Lift Every Voice and Sing” this past summer.. I remember singing it at school, a gifted public school, at assemblies 🙂

    1. We learned it at church as a kid, Monica! But…our children were raised in a multicultural, non-denominational church. We definitely grew spiritually there, but we lost some of the cultural aspects of attending a black church. Good to come back to some of the much-needed memories of old.

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