February 1st marks the beginning of Black History Month. Each year U.S. residents set aside a few weeks to focus their historical hindsight on the particular contributions that people of African descent have made to this country. While not everyone agrees Black History Month is a good thing, here are several reasons why I think it’s appropriate to celebrate this occasion.
The History of Black History Month
First, let’s briefly recount the advent of Black History Month. Also called African American History Month, this event originally began as Negro History Week in 1926. It took place during the second week of February because it coincided with the birthdates of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, is credited with the creation of Negro History Week.
In 1976, the bicentennial of the United States, President Gerald R. Ford expanded the week into a full month. He said the country needed to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Objections to Black History Month
Black History Month has been the subject of criticism from both Blacks and people of other races. Some argue that it is unjust and unfair to devote an entire month to a single people group. Others contend that we should celebrate Black history throughout the entire year. Setting aside only one month, they say, gives people license to neglect this past for the remaining eleven months.
Despite the objections, though, I believe some good can come from devoting a season to remembering a people who have made priceless deposits into the account of our nation’s history. Here are five reasons why we should celebrate Black History Month.
1. Celebrating Black History Months Honors the Historic Leaders of the Black Community
I have the privilege of living in Jackson, Mississippi which is the site of many significant events in Black History. I’ve heard Myrlie Evers, the wife of slain Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers, speak at local and state events. It’s common to see James Meredith, the first African American student at Ole Miss, in local churches or at community events.
Heroes like these and many more deserve honor for the sacrifice and suffering they endured for the sake of racial equality. Celebrating Black History Month allows us to pause and remember their stories so that we can commemorate their achievements.
2. Celebrating Black History Month Helps Us to Be Better Stewards of the Privileges We’ve Gained
Several years spent teaching middle school students impaled me with the reality that if we don’t tell the old, old stories the next generation, and we ourselves, will forget them. It pained me to have to explain the significance of the Harlem Renaissance and the Tuskegee Airmen to children who had never learned of such events and the men and women who took part in them.
To what would surely be the lament of many historic African American leaders, my students and so many others (including me) take for granted the rights that many people before them sweated, bled, and died to secure. Apart from an awareness of the past we can never appreciate the blessings we enjoy in the present.
3. Celebrating Black History Month Provides an Opportunity to Highlight the Best of Black History & Culture
All too often only the most negative aspects of African American culture and communities get highlighted. We hear about the poverty rates, incarceration rates, and high school drop out rates. We are inundated with images of unruly athletes and raunchy reality TV stars as paradigms of success for Black people. And we are daily subject to unfair stereotypes and assumptions from a culture that is, in some aspects, still learning to accept us.
Black History Month provides the chance to focus on different aspects of our narrative as African Americans. We can applaud Madam C.J. Walker as the first self-made female millionaire in the U.S. We can let our eyes flit across the verses of poetry Phyllis Wheatley, the first African American poet and first African American female to publish a book. And we can groove to soulful jazz and somber blues music composed by the likes of Miles Davis and Robert Johnson. Black History Month spurs us to seek out and lift up the best in African American accomplishments.
4. Celebrating Black History Month Creates Awareness for All People
I recall my 8th grade history textbook where little more than a page was devoted to the Civil Rights Movement. I remember my shock as a Christian to learn about the formation of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church because in all my years in churches and Christian schools no one had ever mentioned it.
Unfortunately it seems that, apart from intentional effort, Black history is often lost in the mists of time. When we observe Black History Month we give citizens of all races the opportunity to learn about a past and a people of which they may have little awareness.
5. Celebrating Black History Month Reminds Us All that Black History Is Our History
It pains me to see people overlooking Black History Month because Black history—just like Latino, Asian, European, and Native American history—belongs to all of us. Black and White, men and women, young and old. The impact African Americans have made on this country is part of our collective consciousness. Contemplating Black history draws people of every race into the grand and diverse story of this nation.
Why Christians Should Celebrate Black History Month
As a believer, I see racial and ethnic diversity as an expression of God’s manifold beauty. No single race or its culture can comprehensively display the infinite glory of God’s image, so He gave us our differences to help us appreciate His splendor from various perspectives.
God’s common and special grace even work themselves out in the providential movement of a particular race’s culture and history. We can look back on the brightest and darkest moments of our past and see God at work. He’s weaving an intricate tapestry of events that climax in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And one day Christ will return. On that day we will all look back at the history–not just of a single race but of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue–and see that our Creator had a plan all along. He is writing a story that points to His glory, and in the new creation, His people won’t have a month set aside to remember His greatness. We’ll have all eternity.
After a Facebook post by a prominent University of Mississippi donor was denounced as racist, some professors say the university should rename its journalism school for an African-American journalist who crusaded against lynching.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett was born a slave in Mississippi in 1862. She went on to become an investigative reporter in nearby Memphis, Tennessee, and denounced racial violence. She helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and pushed for women’s right to vote. Wells-Barnett died in 1931 in Chicago.
Ole Miss donor Ed Meek, for whom the Meek School of Journalism and New Media is named, has asked that his name be removed from the school after he posted photos of two black women on Facebook on Sept. 19 and wrote: “A 3 percent decline in enrollment is nothing compared to what we will see if this continues … and real estate values will plummet as will tax revenues. We all share in the responsibility to protect the values we hold dear that have made Oxford and Ole Miss known nationally.”
Meek apologized for the post after receiving sharp criticism. The women were University of Mississippi students who said they had simply gone out after a football game to have fun with friends. Both denounced Meek’s post as demeaning.
A letter from 62 Ole Miss professors and several instructors and graduate students was published Friday in the student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian , suggesting the journalism school be named for Wells-Barnett. They also suggest that the university start journalism scholarships for black women and that it start a Reparative Justice Committee that would work toward removing a Confederate soldier statue that has stood for generations in a prominent place on campus.
“Removing Ed Meek’s name from the School is a necessary, but basic, step in a much longer process of reparative justice,” the letter said. “Our university must firmly stand for its stated values of intellectual excellence, non-discrimination and inclusion and support for all its students.”
The ultimate decision about whether to remove Meek’s name from the journalism school would belong to the state College Board. Meek led Ole Miss public relations for 37 years, starting in 1964, and has had other publishing businesses. The journalism school was named for him after he and his wife donated $5.3 million in 2009.
The university has struggled for decades to deal with its history of troubled race relations. White mobs rioted on campus in the autumn of 1962 as James Meredith became the first black student to enroll at Ole Miss; military troops were called in and Meredith was escorted by federal marshals.
Mississippi’s population is about 38 percent black, and black students made up 12.7 percent of the Ole Miss enrollment in 2017.
In an effort to promote racial diversity in recent years, Ole Miss renamed a street that had been called Confederate Drive and installed plaques to provide historical background, including on the Confederate soldier statue.
In July 2017, the university announced it would put up signs acknowledging that some buildings on campus were built with slave labor. The university also announced then that it would remove the name of James K. Vardaman from a building. Vardaman, a white supremacist, was Mississippi’s governor from 1904 to 1908 and a U.S. senator from 1913 to 1919.
In this June 27, 2018 photograph, civil rights movement figure and activist James Meredith, 85, discusses, at a Jackson, Miss., library, his latest plan to action, “a mission from God” that involves him visiting all 82 Mississippi counties and preaching about following the 10 Commandments and the Golden Rule. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
James Meredith is a civil rights legend who resists neatly defined narratives.
He integrated the University of Mississippi while braving mob violence in 1962 — yet he worked in the late 1980s for archconservative Sen. Jesse Helms, considered a foe by many in the civil rights movement.
Wounded by shotgun fire while marching for voting rights in 1966, Meredith also shuns the title of “civil rights icon,” as if civil rights are different from other rights.
Now, at 85, Meredith could rest assured of a place in history. But he says he’s on a new mission from God — to confront what he sees as society’s “breakdown of moral character” by encouraging people to live by the Ten Commandments.
He says black people must lead the way for Christians of all races to have spiritual healing.
“If the black Christians focus on teaching right, doing right, all other Christian religions would follow suit,” Meredith says. “Instead of religion healing the black-white race issue, the race issue is going to heal everything and correct all the rest of our problems.”
Meredith made the remarks during an interview with The Associated Press at a Jackson public library where he’s a frequent patron.
Wearing cool white slacks, a white shirt and a straw hat, Meredith was approached by an African-American woman with three young girls. She thanked him for making Mississippi a better place and introduced him to the children.
Meredith, a slender man with a white beard, asked her to speak up because he doesn’t hear as well as he used to. The children shyly shook his hand. They posed for a picture, and the youngest girl kissed him on the cheek as she left. Meredith smiled.
“I’ve been in the God business all my life,” Meredith says. “Ole Miss to me was nothing but a mission from God. The Meredith March Against Fear was my most important mission from God, until this one coming up right now: Raising the moral character up, and making people aware of their duty to follow God’s plan and the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
Meredith grew up in segregated Mississippi, served in the Air Force and sued to gain admission as the first black student at the state’s flagship university. Facing resistance from the governor and riots that led to two deaths, Meredith enrolled at Ole Miss in 1962, under federal court order and protected by U.S. marshals. He graduated with a political science degree.
In June 1966, Meredith set out to prove a black man could walk through Mississippi without fear, aiming to trek from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson. On the second day, a white man shot and wounded him. Other civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., arrived to continue the march.
Since the 1960s, Meredith has been in and out of the public eye. He’s been married and raised children and involved himself in Republican politics. He’s run a used car dealership and has spoken on college campuses.
Always independent, Meredith is an iconoclast who says things that can sound grating to people who otherwise see him favorably. For instance, he sharply criticizes a black mother who left her 6-year-old son in her car last year while she went into a Jackson grocery store at night; the car was stolen, the boy was killed and young black men were charged in the crime.
He also wades into the issue of police treatment of black people. He says people fail to discuss whether Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was stealing before he was shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
Georgia Cohran, an African-American resident of Jackson, was a child in Oxford in 1962. She remembers the fear when Meredith enrolled, and the sense of wonder that a black student was finally studying on the campus where many African-Americans, including her mother, worked as cooks. She has known Meredith for years and he has spoken at the church she attends.
“To really understand Mr. Meredith, I think you would have to look at him through brown eyes instead of blue eyes,” Cohran said. “In my opinion, he’s not very complicated. He’s just focused — a very intelligent, focused black man.”
For about two decades, Meredith has handed out photocopies of the Ten Commandments. He says he wants to form a lay religious order called a Bible Society and envisions people studying in small groups and holding each other accountable.
“You only have a good society when everybody’s business is everybody’s business,” he says.
Explaining his new mission, Meredith radiates calm confidence. An African-American man, about college age, has been studying at the next table in the library. The man closes his books and turns to listen. He clearly knows who Meredith is, and the young man is absorbing the older man’s words.
Later, as a reporter waves goodbye, Meredith raises a black power fist and lowers himself into his Honda Civic. The young man from the library walks over and taps on the car window. Meredith rolls it down and the young man smiles and shakes his hand.
It’s been a week since the presidential election, and much of the chatter prior to Election Day about how racially divided America is has continued in different forms thanks to a crop of strange and often disturbing news stories that feature racial subtexts. Here are a few.
After President Obama’s victory, reports circulated about a race riot on the campus of the University of Mississippi in Oxford. Apparently some students were angry over the Obama win and caused a ruckus which included the torching of an Obama/Biden poster. But was it a “race” riot?
A new meme has been making the rounds in social media that displays maps of slaveholding states in 1859, legally segregated states in 1950, and the breakdown of red vs. blue states after the 2012 election. The suggestion is that the slaveholding and segregated states from the past bear an uncanny similarity to the states won by Romney last week. But the meme doesn’t mention that Obama won Florida (as well as Virginia). So, does the comparison meant to show how far we’ve come, or how some things never change?
Obama’s Black Liberal Critics Are Still Mad, Too
Reports from The Grio and The Root find Cornel West calling President Obama “a Republican in black face.” And African American political pundit Boyce Watkins warns African Americans against “drinking the Kool-Aid” again and argues that Obama has yet to demonstrate a serious interest in tackling issues deeply affecting the African American community, including poverty, black unemployment, urban violence, and the mass incarceration of black men.
Those are just a few of the post-election race stories that are making headlines. Did we miss any? Is this much ado about nothing? Please share your opinions below.
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