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Black History Month: Past & Future

Submitted by on January 31, 2011 – 7:55 pmNo Comment

by Markus Lloyd

I would wager that most of us, if approached on the street by a camera crew and microphone with the question “What is the history and purpose of Black History Month,” could not answer with any confidence. Don’t worry, up until recently I couldn’t have either.
For the entirety of my 32 years on this earth as an African-American male, February has signified the celebration of Black History month. I was beginning to prepare for what will now be my 33rd celebration of this nationally recognized observance when I was plagued with the realization that I was not familiar with its history and original purpose. I soon began to do some research and through my findings found myself questioning the validity whether Black History Month will hold for the generations to come.
My ignorance of the origin of Black History Month is somewhat ironic because, historically speaking, the motivation behind this month was the general feeling that the African-American’s contribution to American history was suspiciously lacking from history books and the education system. Not only was the information lacking in regards to amount but the content that was included was considered, by many in the African-American community, to be insulting and reflective of the inferior social position that they were branded with at the time. Frustrated by such prejudice, one African-American historian by the name of Dr. Carter G. Woodson led the charge in 1926 to establish what was called at the time “Negro History Week,” an effort originally begun by the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, a traditionally black fraternity of which Woodson was an honorary member.
The purpose of this week was to commemorate Black achievement in American history. Woodson chose the second week of February because it marks the birthdays of two men of influence in the African-American culture, Fredrick Douglass, a former slave turned abolitionist and Abraham Lincoln, praised in the African-American community for the Emancipation Proclamation. It wasn’t until 1976 that the effort was extended to the month long observance we know today. Although some jokingly take offense that Black History Month was given the shortest month of the year, February actually holds quite a bit of significance in African-American history. Other significant February events include: the passing of the 15th amendment which granted African-Americans the right to vote, the first black U.S. Senator, Hiram R. Revels, took his oath of office, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded.
Embedded inside Black History Month’s historical narrative is the aforementioned purpose of commemorating Black achievement in American history. As I meditate on this purpose a question arises that may sound very strange, especially considering the ethnicity of the one who is asking it: Should we really have a Black History Month?
America is a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. Gone are the days where one race signifies or represents America. Take the Olympics for instance. When you watch the Olympics, America is the only Country whose team has to be identified by the flags on their uniforms. For most other countries you can look at the athletes and tell with some confidence which country they are from or at least in what part of the world their country is located. On the American team however it is more difficult because you have athletes whose ancestry represent most every country in the world all lined up ready to win gold for the red, white and blue. With this being the case doesn’t it seem odd that African-Americans are the only race in America that get a month to celebrate their contributions to its history? Are we the only ones whose true contributions have been altered or lifted from the American history books? Absolutely not! It seems to me that if any race deserves a month dedicated to their contribution to making America what it is today, it would be the first Americans themselves: the ones whose children had run through the trees off the coast of Plymouth Rock for generations before any Pilgrim landed there. That discussion could take me down a very deep rabbit hole so let me level out.
My point is that if we are going to create a month long observance for the affect one race has had on American history then we need to do it for all, which doesn’t seem practical. What if we chose, in our history books, to honor any person who makes significant contributions to American culture regardless of their race color or creed. Let’s let the contribution itself be the defining achievement that lands them a place in our history, not the barriers they have overcome.
The real solution to the 1926 problem that Dr. Woodson was trying to solve can be summed up in the words of the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. (notice I did label him as an African-American) when, in his address at the March of Washington in 1963, he pragmatically uttered the phrase, “ I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” If we want to see King’s dream realized then we must train the next generation to think differently than we do. The method though, is not teaching them to love and respect others, but it is teaching them to love and respect themselves. For if they love themselves and believe they are deserving of love and justice then it will be easier for them to follow the golden rule and treat others the way they would like to be treated.
Black History Month has had a great ride and has been beneficial in bolstering the effort to uncover all the contributions that Americans of every race have had on this country, but if we are serious about equality between all the races and giving equal weight to all their contributions for the greatness of this country, then Black History Month must either be changed to something more inclusive or it has got to go.

Markus Lloyd is the Children’s Minister at Legacy Church in Plano. In his spare time he sings and acts professionally, and serves on the boards of two Plano non-profits, Minnie’s Food Pantry and This Side Up Family Fun Center. Markus lives in Frisco with his wife Lisa and two boys, Markus Jr. (Deuce) and Solomon. Contact Markus at Markustl@me.com and check out his blog at http://boutthebox.blogspot.com

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