In a “60 Minutes” interview Morgan Freeman said, ” You’re going to relegate my history to a month? I don’t want a Black history month. Black history IS American history.” The then 79-year old Oscar-winning actor received quite a bit of criticism for this remark. But does he have a point? Let’s look back, to move forward.
The “Father of Black History Month,” historian and Harvard-trained Carter G. Woodson, and minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) on September 9, 1915, in Chicago, Illinois. This group sponsored National Negro History week in 1926, which coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass, and became increasingly recognized in part due to the Civil Rights movement in the late 1960s. With the stroke of a pen, then-President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976 and called upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
When asked, Woodson explained why Black history is so important. He said, “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” Woodson noticed that Black people were often purposely underrepresented in schools also misrepresented in history books. He spent his entire career ensuring not only that African-American history would be taught, studied, and discussed, but he also hoped through his efforts that Black history and American history would one day be inherent to each other. The goal was to never minimize the contribution of Black Americans down to a month. It was a line item of a bigger conversation, that Black history IS American history and that Black Americans, with their struggles, cultures, traditions, and wins, should be celebrated with the same intensity and integrity that we celebrate everything else.
We must move past the celebration and the recognition of mediocrity; we must advance in having deeper conversations so that we can address the systemic issues that continue to oppress and marginalize Black people in this country. In order for unity to happen, recognition must come first, and this is beyond Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. It’s “The Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein and how he directs our attention to how the government segregated America; it’s James Baldwin and his book “The Fire Next Time,” a book that recognizes the consequences of racial injustice; and it’s Fannie Lou Hammer and her fight for voter rights and how Black men and women contribute every day just by showing up. No, Black history is more than 28 days, it’s US. All of us, and once we recognize the history of this country, no matter how painful or arduous, then and only then can unity happen. In our More Than 28 campaign, we want to educate the industries where we are a part, but the goal and the hope are that Black history and its people will be recognized and be given equity 365 days of the year.
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