Frederick McKinley Jones. Benjamin Banneker. Dr. Charles Drew. W.E.B. DuBois. Earl Lloyd. Booker T. Washington. Jackie Robinson. Martin Luther King, Jr. These are all names of people that reached accomplishments that make them important in American history.
Yes. Not black history, American History.
But the funny thing is, most of the time you will only hear these names at one time every year.
That time is February, known in this nation as Black History Month.
In talking to students on campus, I found that Black History Month is not as well received as I had thought growing up. To me, Black History Month was a fun time where we did special projects highlighting African-Americans in history. It was a time where I could brag that I knew more about history than my white counterparts in school.
I had gained knowledge growing up about famous African-Americans in history from my family, teachers and books I read. This knowledge is the problem with Black History Month, however. The things I had learned, like the names at the top of this article, do not belong in the curriculum only when February rolls around each month.
They don’t belong in the papers or in the news just because it is Black History Month.
These names don’t deserve to be ignored the other 11 months of the year.
They belong in the minds and hearts of all Americans year-round. The names of these American heroes belong in the textbook as much as Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, Elvis Presley, or Charles Darwin.
That being said, how do you begin a process of integrating Black history with American History? Actor Morgan Freeman, who has always been public about his distaste for Black History Month, said that in order to unite the histories that belong together and get rid of racism, all groups must stop talking about racism as a whole.
I don’t particularly believe that to be an effective strategy. The old adage is “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Not talking about racism won’t make it go away. So then, what is the point of Black History Month?
I sat down with Shonta Howell, Minority Affairs graduate assistant, and asked her that question.
“Black History Month is necessary because Black history should be included in American history but isn’t,” Howell said. “What we are doing is expanding peoples’ thinking, broadening their minds, especially at TTU where there is a small minority group.”
The brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. recently celebrated the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. by holding a silent march in his honor. Although the march was silent and umbrellas were raised as rain poured down during the event, it was apparent that moods were thoughtful and positive as marchers were escorted through campus.
Brother Delali Kwami was the host for the event, and he spoke about his thoughts regarding Black History Month and his thoughts about King.
“I think [Black History Month] is a good thing,” Kwami said. “Devoting a month to our history puts out at least 28 days where that can be our only focus.
“We must have it out there and it allows for people to be aware.”
About the silent march, Kwami said that King was “the most important person in civil rights,” and that to honor him was a pleasure. He went on to say that since King was someone that everyone can appreciate and support, “the march was something that should be seen.”
“It’s good to have people out and talking about it,” he finished.
Freeman isn’t the only person who said Black History Month was a detriment to African-American society. I asked a student who immediately responded negatively when I brought up the subject, and after he answered, he requested to remain anonymous.
“I hate Black History Month,” one student told me. “It just gives white people another excuse to be racist.”
Howell, however, said this perception is wrong, and anything suggesting negativity toward any other ethnic group is misplaced.
“I think people look at Black History and think we are trying to be better than other groups,” Howell said, “but that’s not the case. It’s just about celebrating differences.”
Despite the conflict that surrounds Black History Month, the goal of this celebration is clear: to spread the idea that black history is important and should be referenced in the same breath as American history. One man fought his whole life for this exact reason, and died for it. He had a firm stance on uniting all races as a whole, and for it, he is famous in American history: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”-Martin Luther King, Jr.