Every year in February, our nation celebrates Black History Month. It is a month-long recognition of the black Americans who have gone before us and of the contributions they have made to our nation’s society, culture and technology.
But every year, two competing views of Black History Month rise to the forefront of discussion. For some, Black History Month is a time for pointing out past injustices and for signaling their own understanding of cultural dynamics.
For others, it is a time of subtle complaints that Black History Month today is pointless, divisive—or worse—political. They have no problem with the idea itself but are wary of the political stances which are seemingly attached to the occasion’s celebration.
Neither of these views realize the original purpose of Black History Month. When U.S. President Gerald R. Ford announced the first Black History Month, he described it as “an opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
We would do well to remember the achievements of black Americans during February and beyond, because they are not only achievements of black culture but also of American culture. There is no need to be trapped in the false dichotomy represented by these two views. The integrity of President Ford’s original philosophy behind the occasion has not been corroded.
Black History Month should be a time when we commemorate American achievements made by black Americans. While Black History Month happens every February, our society often fails to look beyond politics in order to actually learn and honor black Americans and their contributions.
When was the last time we associated Black History Month with any name lesser known than Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks? If we are to make Black History Month valuable, we should take note of Americans like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas or Daniel Hale Williams, who was the first surgeon to operate on the human heart.
Black History Month does not need to be a political issue but rather a time of genuine learning and commemoration.
To quote the words of President Ford, “I urge my fellow citizens to join me in tribute to Black History Month and the message of courage and perseverance it brings to all of us.”