As we roll past Groundhog’s Day and into the month of February it is hard NOT to be aware that February is not just about sweethearts and presidents – but also about black history. Most Americans, regardless of pigmentation, have opinions on Black History Month.
Some people, with ancestry similar to my own, believe BHM is a bunch of political correctness, piled high. Ask them, they’ll tell you, “We’re all Americans, stuff like this only makes us more divided.” They might even go on to tell you that if they proposed having a “white history month” they’d be accused of being racist. I just try to remind them, for the most part the other 11 months really ARE “white history” months….. I also meet some African-Americans who are convinced, “Sure, “Black History Month!” “We get the shortest month of the year – just one more piece of evidence that white folks won’t give us anything equal.”
Truth is, Black History month began in 1927 as “Negro History Week”. Dr. Carter G Woodson chose the second week of February because it marks the birthdays of two men who greatly influenced the African- American population, Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln.
The birthday of Lincoln was also cause for the writing for the great anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” also know as the Black National Anthem. Writen in 1900 by James Weldon Johnson (who has living descendants here in Minneapolis) it was performed first as a poem as part of a celebration on February 12, 1900 by 500 schoolchildren.
But the importance of Black History goes far beyond a few interesting facts. If we really are the UNITED states of America – your history IS my history. I mean, if black students need to know about George Washington – why shouldn’t white folks need to know about people like Ottobah Cugoano? And all of us can learn from the courageous leadership of Fred Shuttlesworth and others during the heat of the civil rights struggles on the 50’s and 60’s.
Their methods of non-violent resistance, political engagement, and strategic non-cooperation transformed public opinion and the political/legal landscape. The “Arab Spring” and “Occupy” movements show that these methods still have currency. Our present struggle for immigrant rights may also look to these “black history lessons” for wisdom and direction.
As a Christian I take this even further. If God is the god of all – then we can see his hand at work in all of history. We are bound together and share a past that God has worked through – and a future he is leading us into. To me a key for real unity isn’t in avoiding or shaming the celebration of various slices of history; but in learning to see God’s fingerprints through his servants of truth and justice in the histories of us all.
Unity can take root and grow if each of us can come to terms (with the good and bad) of our own history while also embracing the value of knowing the rich stories and history of others.
Here is a simple formula for unity….
- Accept MY STORY (the good bad and the ugly)
- Get to know YOUR STORY
- This will reduce the MYSTERY (fear and division)
- because OUR STORY
- is HIS STORY.
Check out the following slices of His-Story from articles I’ve written;
As well as this excellent article on the life of Cesar Chavez.