If it’s February it must be Black History Month. But why… and so what?
Why is February designated as Black History Month? Moreover, why do we have a Black History Month at all? And finally, what might we do this month to make black history a meaningful part of our daily lives and a balm to sooth the open wounds of a fractured nation?
If you are anything like me, Black History Month has honestly not been a major object on your radar screen. In my septuagenarian world Black History Month is a relatively new kid on the block. It wasn’t until 1976 that President Gerald Ford took what had been an obscure week that was intended to showcase everything students learned about black history throughout the school year, and expanded it into a federally recognized cultural heritage month. And so it is that today we have a nationally recognized celebration with a focus on the contributions African Americans have made to this nation as well as a time for Americans of all shades to reflect on the centuries old struggle for racial justice.
Black History Month evolved from the seed that was sown back in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History,” It was he who first proposed a national “Negro History Week.” The author, historian and son of slaves became the second African American to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard University. He was the founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Why did he choose February to introduce Negro History Week? There were a few reasons for this timing.
On the final day of January, 1865 Congress passed the 13th Amendment which read:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
On the first day of February President Lincoln approved a joint resolution of Congress submitting it to the state legislatures for ratification. While approval of the 13th Amendment on February 1 would be reason enough to choose February, Woodson also picked the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Lincoln.
Although Woodson originally meant his Negro History Week to inspire African Americans to better understand and be proud of their heritage, today’s Black History Month cries out to all Americans to confront and eradicate the scourge of systemic racism that infects the very heart and soul of the nation.
With last year’s outcry over police violence to black lives and the recent white supremacist led attack on the Capitol, this year’s Black History Month comes at what Jesus would always see as a “teachable moment.” What guidance might the Lord of Love and Prophet of Justice give his followers and all God’s children as we observe Black History Month? Perhaps he would suggest a list of resources similar to the following, and urge everyone to sample daily from the smorgasbord. Dive in, and come out a more passionate and compassionate champion of justice for all.
Black History Month Resources
+ Look at some book suggestions from the Chatham County Library
+ And for those willing to take a deep dive, plunge into the raft of resources provided by the Presbyterian Church (USA)
We’ll conclude with the sage words of Fannie Lou Hamer:
“Righteousness exalts a nation. Hate just makes people miserable.”