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[NY] Black History, American History

Black History, American History
Color Commentary

By Candyce Phoenix

March 03, 2006

Every year around February, people start debating whether or not Black History Month is a good thing. This year, those seeking to eliminate BHM got some help from Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman.

In December, Freeman appeared on CBS’ 60 Minutes and said: “You’re going to relegate my history to a month? I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history.”

It is easy to have a gut reaction to Freeman’s comments—you probably either soundly disagree or you’re glad somebody famous finally said what needed to be said. But it’s not that simple. Freeman is both right and wrong.

Freeman’s comment can be deceiving. In saying “you’re going to relegate my history to a month,” he implies that some opposition (in this case white America) decided to appease blacks by instituting BHM. I’m sure we’ve all heard the jokes about how the white man made sure that BHM was in February, the shortest month of the year.

Funny as that may be, the truth is that black scholar Carter G. Woodson started Negro History Week, establishing the annual black celebration to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Though I disagree with giving Lincoln such an honor, these two February birthdays established the month, and when Negro History Week became Black History Month, it made sense to keep it in February. Woodson sought to bring the contributions and achievements of blacks to the forefront, hoping that one day Negro History Week would no longer be necessary.

However, while Freeman gives the wrong impression about how BHM started, his comments speak profoundly of the current state of the celebration. Since the civil rights movement, BHM has been widely adopted by school systems and corporations alike. But, while Freeman is correct in saying that “Black history is American history,” it isn’t exactly regarded as such.

Many people will probably agree that during their primary education, with the exception of BHM, there were only cursory discussions, if any at all, about black history. Those discussions that did make the cut were likely benign retellings of historic events. Chances are you heard about the March on Washington and the Montgomery bus boycott, but you probably didn’t hear too much about Bull Connor spraying children with water forceful enough to tear the bark off of trees. And the likelihood is that you rarely learned anything, instead your teachers trotted out the same examples of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks every year, hardly mentioning anyone else. Your U.S. history textbook probably didn’t talk too much about black people other than by glossing over slavery and the civil rights movement.

( there is more...)

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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