African American History Month

(Personal Note: In recognition of African American History Month, I republish my blog post of February 1, 2015. Characteriologically, I am a person who, in regard to nearly every subject, great and small, upon initial and second thought, consideration and reconsideration, changes his mind, at times, multiply within short spans of time. However, the following word still rings true in my mind and heart, soul and spirit…)

In 1976, as a part of the United States Bicentennial Celebration, African American or Black History Month (AAHM) was recognized by the federal government as an annual occasion, in the words of then President Gerald Ford, to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

AAHM’s forerunner, Negro History Week (NHW), was established in 1926 by historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Observed in the second week of February, coinciding with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, February 12 and 14, respectively, dates since the late 19th century held in honor in black communities, NHW focused on advancing the teaching and study in public schools of the history of American blacks.

I am a 62-year old African American educated in St. Louis public schools. I remember the dearth of system-authorized black history instruction; a glaring deficiency addressed in content and assuaged in spirit by the committed efforts of my nuclear and extended families and my elementary school teachers, all who, in collaboration conscious or unawares, fulfilled my grandmother Audia’s proclamation, “Paul, to know yourself, you must know your people’s history.” Hence, I have an elemental, perhaps eternal affinity for AAHM. More expansively, for America – which, I believe, has still to incarnate the dream of Langston Hughes, who, speaking for all peoples, native and immigrant, white and black, said, “O, let America be America again; the land that never has been yet, and yet must be; the land where every man is free” – to know herself, she must know her black people’s history.

Still, as a pluralist who rejoices in our racial diversity and as an inclusivist who equally relishes our common humanity, my inner inquisitor wonders, worries about AAHM. How fair is it to the concept of our universal humanness to dedicate any period – a day, a week, a month, a year or more – to the history of any one race? And how fair is it to relegate the study of black history to any period when my people’s history, a vivid, inerasable thread in the rich tapestry of our national being and becoming, is American history? (My aunt, Evelyn Hoard Roberts, a college English professor, so cherishing the idea, the ideal of interdisciplinary and interracial, in other words shared, not separate approaches to education, in 1977, published American Literature and the Arts Including Black Expression.)

Yet, as Langston’s prophecy remains to be fulfilled, I continue to pray in his words: O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe.

As I believe that true equality is achieved in real part when all of us know the histories of each of us, I will commemorate and celebrate AAHM.

4 thoughts on “African American History Month

  1. Paul,

    I remember this from two years ago! It’s really Ah-Mazing how accurate this still is! I’ve become much more aware over the last few years that I don’t know nearly as much as I should about our history, primarily because I’ve been so focused on my own family and career. I’ve been doing a lot more learning of our history and in turn want to pass it on to my granddaughter! We truly can’t know ourselves until we know our history! Thanks for the reminder….what struck me (and actually scared me) as I got to the end of this and read Langston’s words that you pray, was the question what will your message be on this day two years from NOW??? We certainly seem to be going backwards, and I pray that we can unite and begin going in the right direction again, in spite of whatever laws may be passed, overruled or overturned…I pray that like our ancestors we will not be deterred.

    Many thanks and Much love!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Loretta, teach Kendal her history and to value her history! I know you and Kim are doing that and will continue.

      As for where we’ll be two years from now, I will reply that I am not hopeful given how things appear. Still, my deepest hope rests not in what we do or do not do, but rather my faith in the God of love and justice who created and sustains this world. I also find gracious rest – in knowing our history – in the tenacity of our generations past, some of whom lived in chains, who, nevertheless, maintained heir hope for freedom, even when they breathed their last whilst still bound. What courage of conviction burned in their hearts!

      Much love and faith and power in believing

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Paul, for reposting this. I was not a follower of your blog when you first posted it. I would like to credit and magnify your Grandmother Audia’s wise words by offering that no American can know her- or himself without having a good grasp of African-American history and culture, because that history and culture are central to the formation of the bedrock upon which this land’s present and future rest.

    I stood, shining my flashlight into the darkness, on the evening of January 20, Inauguration Day, with a group of people from several theater companies, including Emilia’s Impossible Salt company, in a parking lot outside Mixed Blood Theater here in Minneapolis. Theaters all over the country were holding such vigils in furtherance of the Ghostlight Project, which pledges the theater community’s steadfast commitment to openness and welcome for the work and the stories of people of all backgrounds, races, gender conditions, sexual preferences, and ethnicities. (A ghostlight appropriately enough, is a safety light left on in a darkened theater.) This particular group of local theaters chose to use Langston Hughes’ great poem, read by principals and actors from all the represented companies, to express their feelings about how we must move through the next four years. Those words, in the darkness penetrated by the lights of cell phones and flashlights, were so moving, challenging, inspirational, essential. Who but an African-American could have written them? Who could have known what he knew from his own experience of this country’s enormous potential and its monumental failure to live up to it?

    I believe our country, our society and our world are deeply dependent upon the willingness of those who carry this country’s precious African-American heritage to teach the rest of us your/our history and to share with us your wisdom, your remarkable capacity for forgiveness, your unflagging courage, and your unwavering faith. There are times when I marvel at how and why African-Americans would still be willing to do this, after all the centuries of oppression, injustice, and pain your race has suffered at the hands of ignorance and hatred. The miracle I see every day is that African-American hearts, for the most part, are still open, still loving, still hopeful, still willing to offer themselves to the dream of America, often in the face of enduring arrogance, meanness, and hatred by some elements of our society. It takes my breath away when I think of it.

    Thank you for your love of your people’s history and culture and for your willingness to share it with those of us who need it so much.

    Much love to you and Pontheolla.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen, yours – as always – is a most considered and compassionate witness to the values, the virtues of equality.

      And your hope is mine, as I closed, “…I believe that true equality is achieved in real part when all of us know the histories of each of us…”

      I continue to hope, even and especially in our current day of gravest division.

      Love always to you, Ted, and Emilia. AND thank you for granting me a glimpse of Emilia’s conviction and courage. I am deeply comforted by this.


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