The celebration of Black History Month has taken on new urgency as political factions around the country seek to end diversity efforts in colleges and business; to limit access to books that tell stories of the quest for freedom and other aspects of Black people’s lives; to suppress public recognition of Black achievers; and to roll back Black voters’ choices of elected leadership.
A people’s sense of self-worth often influences whether they will demand justice, fairness, and equal rights. Suppression of a people’s true history can be a control tool to tamp down their civic involvement and their protest against injustice.
We must stand firm in our refusal to let our rights be reversed and our history erased or distorted. Black people who were enslaved survived against incredible odds, as did their descendants who fought to end Jim Crow legal segregation and gain voting rights. Their stories inspire courage, and being aware of them is essential to prevent a repetition of the horrors of the past.
Also important is the unvarnished history of Africans before they were captured and enslaved. The people who were ripped from their homelands often were skilled planters, farmers, craftsmen, teachers, scientists, herbalists, mothers, fathers, warriors, leaders, and more. In captivity, they were physically and emotionally brutalized, punished for speaking their native tongue, barred from education, and regarded as chattel.
Enslavers and the lawmakers who enabled them subjected Black people to well-crafted campaigns of debasement; and the Constitution was amended to legally consider enslaved people as three-fifths of a person to determine congressional representation. That campaign to promote inferiority has had centuries-long repercussions on race relations in our nation that continue today.
Black History Month is an outgrowth of historian Carter G. Woodson’s establishment of “Negro History Week” in 1926 in the second week of February when the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass are celebrated. Woodson wanted to ensure that all Americans – especially Black people – understand the vast contributions of Black Americans to our nation.
Here, 98 years later, we are obligated to amplify Dr. Woodson’s message, to encourage civic action to demand our constitutional rights, and refuse to let our history be squashed by people who would label us as inferior.
On this Black History Month, we invite you to get involved with the Urban League and the newly formed Atlanta Leaders for 100 percent literacy (ALL). We are hosting a session on Feb. 7 at Cascade United Methodist Church, 458 Ponce de Leon Avenue, NE, Atlanta, beginning at 7 p.m. Click here to register to attend. ALL’s mission is to support the APS school board to hire a “literacy superintendent,” and change reading level stats for students entering fourth grade that now hover at percents as low as 11% and 9% for children of color and those who qualify for free lunch.
In order for our children to hold themselves in high regard and step through doors of opportunity in their adult lives, they MUST learn to read at grade level by third grade.
It is essential that we come together as a region to end the scourge of illiteracy that would consign a generation of children to low self-esteem and low income for a lifetime. And stand strong against measures to dilute voter participation.
We can do nothing less to honor Black History.