The Politics of Continuing Black History Month
David L. Horne, Ph.D OW Oped | 2/6/2020, midnight
Known from 1926 until 1976 as American Negro History Week, invented by Harvard graduate Dr. Carter G. Woodson and his Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now known as ASAALH), African American History Month (or Black American History Month), yet lives. This is in spite of POTUS 45 trying to slight and undercut it by using the beginning of each February during his administration as a reason to celebrate either his loyal administrators, some new bragging right he was claiming, or as really just another month until November 2020. Since 1976, inaugurated by then-POTUS Gerald R. Ford, each president has paid honor to the Black History Month national celebration. But not this one.
But do we still need African-American History Month, anyway? Is it still relevant? Who needs to remember slavery, various individual feats of greatness in athletics, science, art, music, literature, politics, etc.? Why do we need to annually remind ourselves of the magnificence of the record of a people consistently written off as ‘only fit to be slaves’?
Besides being reminded every year of what we are capable of no matter what ‘kitchen sink’ is thrown at us, or what hinderance is put in our way, when it comes right down to it, as the Smithsonian’s Lonnie G. Bunch has said, African American History Month, and its associated activities, is not just about remembering our mostly unacknowledged past record of achievements; African-American History Month helps legitimize that record of survival and attainment.
Our history is not ‘fake’ history, imagined or made up for a movie or video shoot. Ours is a record of challenge and triumph, disaster and survival. African-American History Month is an annual observance of the root and cloth of what the human spirit can accomplish against all odds when it refuses to roll up and die. We are the living example of finding ways to work it out when there just seem to be no ways at all.
The annual celebration is also a highlighter of what still needs to be done. There is still no standard ethnic studies required course in California public schools, and that must be corrected post haste. How many of us have gone on the Our Authors Study Club annual Black History Bus Tour, so that we know who Biddy Mason was to Los Angeles’ history? How many of us know what parts Black folk played in California history and development? What was the historical relationship between the Japanese-American community and California’s African American community? What happened to those relations?
Could most of us pass a quick quiz on Black pioneers in California and Los Angeles? For those willing to go to war over preserving Crenshaw Boulevard, Leimert Park, View Park and the “Black Beverly Hills,” are you trying to save land parcels and communities we deserve or those that we pirated from others?
What do you know about Bruce’s Beach and the Black pioneers of Venice, Calif.? Anybody remember the Inkwell?
In other words, is African-American History Month a reminder of our need for study and research about what we’ve already done, so we can learn the lessons of how to do similar things in the now and future? Is it our family “Bible?”
Again, not to beg the question, but is there a modern place for African-American History Month in a multi-ethnic society? Absolutely and without question there is.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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