Black History Month ... celebrates the diverse history of African Americans through their struggles and triumphs and always with the slogan, “We shall overcome.”
Black History Month springs from Black History Week, which began in mid-February 1926 because of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The U.S. government recognized the expansion to a month in 1976.
There are some critics of Black History Month. Actor Morgan Freeman says Black History Month is not needed because black history is American history. He’s right, in one vein of thinking. But for 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, black Americans were marginalized with Jim Crow laws, poll taxes and literacy tests to prevent them from voting and were oppressed by persistent egregious racism in many U.S. institutions and the private sector.
But when courageous blacks took a stand — Rosa Parks on the bus, Martin Luther King Jr. and the march on Washington, and the violent clashes in the South — their struggle for rights and recognition and demand for equal treatment under the law came into sharp focus. The change was coming, and Black History Month is a recognition of that change.
There have been many changes since the early days of the civil rights movement, and the struggle still goes on in many ways. Witness the killings in black neighborhoods, and the higher unemployment and incarceration rates for young black men. When President Obama was elected, people talked about a post-racial society. Though great strides have taken place, the country is not post-racial. There are more strides to take.
It’s understandable that Freeman would not be too enamored by Black History Month. He wants the black story to be America’s story. But until we take the next strides into a truly post-racial society, Black History Month serves as a reminder of the struggle and sacrifice black Americans have made.
It is a month for pride not only in the struggle but in the victories won along the way. Those victories, passed down among the generations, make Black History Month relevant and forward-looking.
Black History Month celebrates triumphs earned via long struggle.