A student’s reflection on Black History Month in America
By Dom Daugherty
Black History Month has long been regarded as an important and necessary tradition to celebrate an often overlooked aspect of American history. Starting as a simple seven-day celebration, it was first observed on the second week of February in 1929 by African-American historian, Carter G. Woodson as a way to honor the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. It would later be expanded to a month, but wouldn’t be officially recognized by the U.S. government until 1976.
Now, with month concluded, it’s important to remind ourselves of the historic importance and relevance of BHM and to ask ourselves if maybe – just maybe – it has served its purpose.
Today, BHM is a regular part of America’s yearly celebrations, allowing us as a nation to pay special attention to the events and people who helped shape our nation from James Armistead and the Revolutionary War to the election of Barack Obama.
First, I would urge you to consider this: To reduce an entire people’s contribution to a single month, to segregate that history from the whole of American history, to allow three weeks of documentary specials to be all the thought put into what black Americans have achieved and contributed to this nation is actually doing more harm than good. African-American history is American history, It is just as much the history of my white American classmates as it is mine. Should we not look at it as such? And if we are going to get real about actually learning the true depth of how African-Americans have changed this country for the better, should we not learn about it right along with everything else year-round?
Secondly, there are too many people forgotten. People lost in history due to the limited time of a single month. Take the civil-rights era for example. As we celebrate Black history for a month’s time, we have to skip over too many important details. We have to focus on the historical juggernauts like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X, forgetting about the lesser known but equally important stories of people like Juliette Hampton Morgan, Rev. James Reeb, and Viola Gregg Liuzzo, all white, and all people who gave up everything to fight the injustices brought onto an undeserving people. Liuzzo is someone who gave the ultimate sacrifice, losing her life at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan because she was alone in a car with a black teenage boy, simply giving him a ride home after the March on Selma. Where is her month?
It doesn’t end there, so many wonderful African-Americans are also lost in the shadows of those deemed more important. People like Fred Hampton, Harry and Harriette Moore, and Jimmy Lee Jackson, all names most have never heard of, all of whom gave their lives in their fight for equality.
The truth is, this aspect of American history is too big to contain in 28 days, too important to only think about once a year and too segregated to help bring about any real change.
I firmly believe it won’t be until we decide that we are all Americans, united in a shared history of constant and overlapping fights for equality, that we can take pride in each others’ authentically American struggles and gain a better understanding of what brings us together as citizens of this nation. Allowing ourselves to live up to our pledge of being indivisible, and ultimately securing real liberty and justice for all.
A resident of Ypsilanti, Dom Daugherty is a Political Science Major at WCC.