Renowned historian and author Carter G. Woodson started Negro History Week in 1926 as a way to highlight the contributions of African Americans in a country that distorted the historical records of their contributions.
After all, if black folks, being intellectually and morally inferior as individuals and as a group, had no record of having done anything of import to advance human civilization (according to the reasoning of racially chauvinistic of males in the dominant society in the 18th and 19th centuries), then what is their worth? It was a sad rationale for racial oppression, without much consequence.
Woodson’s own research of African history – not to mention the work being done by his own American peers and plain ol’ common sense – roundly refuted such arguments. And he wanted black people to know what he knew, as a way to build their self esteem in a society that constantly pulverized it. And he wanted the world to know too, particularly because it would help eliminate prejudice among whites. So he chose February to start his campaign.
February was the birth month of the great African American statesman and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and of President Abraham Lincoln, who abolished slavery. It’s also the month the NAACP was founded. The week was expanded into a month and now is widely acknowledged and celebrated by many, particularly in schools.
And it’s important that people know their history and the contributions that Americans of every hue have contributed to make this country great. Otherwise, as the saying goes, we are doomed to repeat history’s mistakes.
So it really breaks my heart that some folks, so blind in their devotion to the legendary stories about America’s Founding Fathers, are willing to whitewash history:
A little more than a year after the conservative-led state board of education in Texas approved massive changes . . .. Hal Rounds, the Fayette County (Tennessee) attorney and spokesman for the group, said during a recent news conference that there has been “an awful lot of made-up criticism about, for instance, the founders intruding on the Indians or having slaves or being hypocrites in one way or another. . . . Neglect and outright ill will have distorted the teaching of the history and character of the United States. We seek to compel the teaching of students in Tennessee the truth regarding the history of our nation and the nature of its government.”
The group demanded, as they had in January of last year, that Tennessee lawmakers change state laws governing school curricula. The group called for textbook selection criteria to include: “No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership.”
Facts are facts. What happened happened. As much as we might want to forget some of the most painful chapters of our history, it’s important that we don’t. Why? Because we can never understand how we got to where we are until we know where we’ve been. The past teaches us as we live in the present and plan for the future.
That’s why the Oscar-nominated movie “The Help” has become an important way of sharing that history in ways that people can empathize with. I know the criticisms some black folks have raised about the film. But any popular movie, including the recent Red Tails (about the heroic Tuskegee Airmen) that puts the history of racial discrimination into sharp focus for the masses is always good, in my opinion. To learn more black history, you can also check out the terrific line up of powerful documentaries that PBS is airing this month, including Freedom Riders and Slavery By Another Name, both of which have Birmingham connections
But it’s the targeting of children and their school that is particularly worrisome to me. Children are like blank slates. We have to be extremely careful what we write on their little hearts and minds, that one day will become adults who make daily decisions based on their values.
All God’s children have value and worth, and they need to know that, and act accordingly. Then maybe some of the bigotry and discrimination we’re still experiencing will be their past history.
BIRMINGHAM FASHION WEEK KICKS OFF TONIGHT
If there is another thing that brings people together is beautiful clothes (well, at least it helps me!). The founders of Birmingham Fashion Week created the event on the ideals of bringing unity to our community through fashion. I met Heidi Elnora, one of the co-founders, last year. Her passion for the good of our city and the desire to cross boundaries and borders for the sake of something greater than the sum of its very separated parts inspired me and let me know “I am not alone!”
So I encourage you to support this event over the next few days, today through the 12th. BFW also benefits Camp Smile-A-Mile, a year-round program for children in Alabama with cancer, Alabama Forever, founded to help Alabama communities in need after the April 27, 2011 tornadoes. It’s also being held in conjunction with the Mercedes-Benz Marathon, which benefits Kid One Transport, The Bell Center and The Service Guild of Birmingham.
We’ll be covering the event, and our photographer Cassandra Griffen will have some dynamite pictures to share. So keep an eye out on the blog and Facebook pages.
And we’ll have more Black History Month events in Birmingham to share with you.
Until Then, I Wish You Love, Peace and Sooouuullll!! (RIP, Don Cornelius!)