With apologies to Sinatra and Elvis:
And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain…
At least until next year, that is.
Yes, as another Black History Month comes to an end, what have we learned – besides the fact that Whoopi Goldberg is not really Jewish, that yes, even a movie as good as Selma can be shown too many times on TV in a short period of time and Frederick Douglass was not the bass player for Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes?
Me? I’ve learned that we’re some baaaaaaad – Shut yo’ mouth: But I’m talking about Black History Month – people whose contributions to this country are incalculably vast.
I’ve also learned that there is way too much “Black” history to be done justice in just one month, regardless of how many 30-second PSA’s they show on television.
Mainly, though, I’ve learned that history, when done right, is neither black nor white.
The thought of doing away with Black History Month will undoubtedly set certain hearts aflutter in agreement. For instance, a counselor at an Indiana elementary school recently told parents their children could opt out of any classes or events involving BHM.
That’s cool, because you know what would be poetic justice?
If one of those kids ends up on Jeopardy! 20 years from now and loses a million bucks because he answers “Uh, who was the bass player for Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes?”
I hope to be sitting on my couch gumming some applesauce and laughing heartily when that happens.
There is no way to teach American history without including what passes for Black American history – from the get-go, to before the Revolutionary War. Stevie Wonder in 1976 sung about “the first man to die for the flag we now hold high” was Crispus Attucks, a brother.
(I sometimes suspect that if ol’ Cris had known how tortuous progress would be in this country, he might’ve said “Ima sit this one out, yo.”)
How inseparable is Black history?
The next time you get a ticket because the light changed from yellow to red too quickly for you to get through it and the law isn’t trying to hear your excuses and writes you a $150 ticket, you can blame it on Garrett Morgan, a Black man who patented the three-color traffic signal we now know and sometimes loathe. And who do you think was the dude credited with being the first to cook macaroni & cheese in America? (James Hemings, an enslaved man taken to France by Thomas Jefferson and a chef.)
Now, who can imagine a world without traffic lights and macaroni & cheese?
As a buddy of mine said, considering how everything now is filtered through the lens of the cultural wars, some will surely seek to strip me of my “Run Jesse Run ’84” lapel pin or revoke my chairmanship of the Z.Z. Hill International Blues Man Fan Club: What kind of Black man besides Clarence Thomas, they’ll harumph indignantly, would suggest abolishing BHM?
Well, do you know who else thought the separate celebration of the race’s contributions had a shelf life with an expiration date?
Carter G. Woodson, the Black historian and the founder of Black History Month. (Actually, when he conceived of it in 1926, it was Negro History Week. It only became Black History Month in 1976.)
In a 2020 speech, Burnis Morris, the Carter G. Woodson Professor of Media and Communications at Marshall University and my friend, quoted Woodson as saying“We should not emphasize Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate and religious prejudice. There should be no indulgence in undue eulogy for the Negro. The case of the Negro is well-taken care of when it is shown how he has influenced the development of civilization.”
Right on, homes.
He said that in 1938, 12 years after he created the observance.
Because whatever greatness America lays claim to was achieved by confronting and dealing with its often unjust past, we should want our children – and yours, too - to learn everything there is to be learned about that history: the good, the bad, the uncomfortable.
It’s just that trying to cram four centuries of history into 28 days once a year is not the best way to do it.
The time to phase out BHM is not nigh, not by a long shot.
But hey, a man can have a dream, can’t he?