What better place to talk about emancipation and freedom than at church? Of course, it’s freedom from a different oppressor, but that’s exactly where I was on Saturday, Feb. 2, discussing the national Black History Month theme, “At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington.” The reason for even having the discussion was called into question. I was given a wonderful opportunity to share my personal passion for Black history with the high school students and parents attending the “Making The Most of High School” program at my church in Prince George’s County.
Interestingly, however, wWhile many of us proudly plan and participate in Black History Month activities, there are some who are asking why Black History Month is even still necessary. So, those of us who still firmly believe in the need, should be ready to tackle this issue head on.
Some critics question the need for Black History Month by pointing to the fact that African Americans are widely represented in all aspects of American life, we have our first African American President of the United States, we celebrated the completion of the memorial to Dr. King on the National Mall, and last year broke ground for the new National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Mall, in the proximity of the Washington Monument. Isn’t that evidence enough that Black History Month’s time has come? Actually, no. Even when Black History Month (initially Black History Week) was first conceived of by Carter G. Woodson, Africans and people of African descent were already making history, so pointing to such recent accomplishments clearly misses the full purpose of Black History Month.
Actually, Woodson also in fact hoped that the designation of a time for looking back at Black history would be eliminated one day, but only when black history has become an essential component of the teaching of American history. Unfortunately, we know that still isn’t the case and that is the reason we continue to celebrate Black History Month. While the late Howard Zinn included the history of African Americans in his revisionist writings (e.g. A People’s History of the United States), mainstream history continue to exclude or miniminze our contributions. But, Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates believes that “Black History Month has been very effective in resurrecting the stories of our ancestors and in integrating those stories into history.” According to Gates, we can talk about ending Black History Month when as many Americans are as familiar with Harriet Tubman as they are with Paul Revere. And, other proponents of Black History Month note that there’s no specific month designated as White History Month because their contributions to society are already highlighted in American history.
I am personally so very proud that many of us continue to use our talents and even our personal resources to ensure that Black History Month continues to be taught and discussed. And, I am personally very happy that we still have a desire to celebrate our very rich heritage not simply rest on recent notable accomplishments.
Shirley A. Jones, is president of the Region XI Council of Blacks In Government.