By John L. Horton
In the past several days, Stacey Dash ( movie and television, “Clueless,” and Fox News Channel personality) and several other “celebrity” types have been in the news for saying there is no need to have a Black History Month anymore.
All of this reminds me of the Morgan Freeman, “60 Minutes” interview, December 18, 2005, where he expressed the same sentiment, calling for an end to Black History Month celebrations, saying it was divisive and no longer needed.
I respectfully disagree with both of them and others who express this opinion. While things have greatly improved over my lifetime (75 years) quite substantively and mostly for the betterment of all Americans, I would caution that “we” have not yet fully arrived socially, economically and politically, and there is still work to be done.
Furthermore, Black History Month is not just a month of history. Its “lessons” can reverberate throughout the year – and beyond. For me, its lessons have lasted a lifetime. Through reading, writing, lecturing and researching, I have discovered how much Black people have done and accomplished, not only in America and Africa, but around the world.
Black History Month is a lifelong journey for me. It empowers me to find the strength to reach out again and again – not just in February, but throughout the year and a lifetime.
Therefore, please allow me to explain and expand upon my reasons for saying that Black History Month is (still) necessary.
Black History Month is necessary because it showcases and highlights certain significant and profound aspects of African-Americans. Black History Month helps to instill pride, dignity, awareness and understanding among African-American people and other people whom African-American must relate to and interact with in everyday life.
Black History Month dramatizes and tells the story of where African-Americans have been, of where they are now, and hopefully, of where they will be in the future.
Black History Month affords us an opportunity to reflect back over our pre-American existence and learn about the great African empires of Mali, Songhay, Old Ghana, Kanem-Bornu, Benin, Kush and others. It informs us of the early Africans who accompanied the European discovers and explorers to the New World in the 15th and 16th Centuries. It tells us of the twenty Africans who landed in Virginia in August 1619.
During Black History Month, we learn about the many accomplishments and contributions of Crispus Attucks, Phillis Wheatley, Richard Allen, Prince Hall, Peter Salem, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, James Derham, John S. Rock, Henry Highland Garnet, and others, during the 18th and 19th Centuries.
Black History Month teaches us about the 5,000 slaves and free Blacks who served in the Continental Army and Navy between 1776 and 1781, enabling America to gain her independence. Further, we learn about the Black cowboys, frontiersmen and “Buffalo Soldiers” who helped to pioneer and settle the Old West during the mid- and late 1800s.
Black History Month allows us to revisit and experience the times, trials and triumphs of Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Dubois, Marcus Garvey, Walter F. White, Mary McLeod Bethune, Paul Robeson, Ralph Bunche, A. Philip
Randolph, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young, Jr., Roy Wilkins, Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan, Coretta Scott King, and other names forever enshrined in memory and history.
Moreover, Black History Month introduces us to the hundreds and thousands of African-American athletes, musicians, dancers, writers, composers, architects, inventors, lawyers, educators, politicians, civil rights activists, preachers, entrepreneurs, actors, media personalities, government officials, and important others, who have made significant and lasting contributions to all mankind.
Although it is generally understood and realized that Black History Month encompasses only a general outline or brief overview of African-Americans and their history, it is felt, nonetheless, that Black History Month is the mudsill and foundation upon which a more profound, lasting and meaningful relationship and experience can be built.
Black History Month is the grassroots level; it is the candle which refuses to curse the darkness; it is the flickering spark which will help to light the eternal flame of brotherhood and human understanding.
Accordingly, Black History Month serves a good and honest and just purpose. It is one of the most effective and significant means by which a beautiful and noble people have to express and share themselves with others.
It is a vehicle of heritage, culture and pride on a journey of love, understanding and acceptance. As such, there will always be a time, a place and a need for Black History Month.
Yes, Black History Month is (still) necessary.
John L. Horton is a retired U.S. Marine and resident of Norfolk, Va. He is a frequent contributor to this newspaper.