I want you to think back to your high school years for a few moments.
Do you remember studying in history about the race riots in 1921 in Tulsa, Okla., that killed nearly 300 people, most of them black, and wiped out a thriving black community?
Did your teachers spend time discussing the race riot that destroyed the black community of Rosewood, Fla., in 1923?
Were you ever assigned to write a paper about the effects the Middle Passage had on African slaves brought to America to prop up this nation’s economy?
In most cases, if you are truthful, the answer to all those questions would be no.
And, I would suggest, high school students in the 21st century probably would give the same answer.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson realized that most of the significant events for black people — the good and the bad — were not being written about or taught in America’s schools. More importantly, he knew many black people didn’t know their own rich history, a history of unimaginable horror as well as a history of indefatigable resilience.
Thus he began Negro History Week, which has morphed into Black History Month, and now African-American History Month.
Woodson chose the second week of February to celebrate black history between the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Douglass, a former slave, went on to become a great orator, writer and abolitionist.
So is Black History Month still relevant?
After all, the United States elected a biracial man to the country’s highest office.
The head coach of the Indianapolis Colts is black, as are five other head coaches in the NFL. The mayors of Youngstown and McDonald are black.
There are black women in Congress. Oprah Winfrey is a billionaire.
Didn’t thousands, perhaps millions of white Americans, donate their hard-earned dollars to help black people after Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti?
Hasn’t this nation shown that equality of all races has finally arrived?
Let me be clear about something few can dispute. The racial divide is this country has closed, and Woodson, the historian, and Martin Luther King Jr., the civil-rights leader, would be encouraged by the gains black people have made in this country, but we still have a long way to go to eradicate racism.
That is why black history is still important and must be emphasized.
Young black people must be taught that their grandparents and great-grandparents once could not vote, eat at certain diners and had to use separate bathrooms and drinking fountains.
They need to know the extended arms of America to welcome European immigrants through Ellis Island in New York never embraced the dark-skinned people from Africa.
Everyone needs to know more about the black people who contributed to building this great nation.
When I was in school, this was the sum total of black history I was taught: Blacks were brought to this country as slaves, and Lincoln freed the slaves; Booker T. Washington was a black educator; and George Washington Carver made great products out of peanuts. I didn’t learn about Tulsa, Rosewood and the Middle Passage until I was in my 30s.
I think all people should have a month to celebrate the uniqueness of their cultures and history. We all need to remember where we came from so we can know where we are headed. And for black folks, February is the month to do that.