As we wrap up Black History Month in 2012, I’m reminded of a Marcus Garvey quote, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.”
Black History Month began almost ninety years ago at the urging of historian Carter G. Woodson. At the time, Woodson declared that the second week of February should be set aside to honor the often untold stories of Black achievement. He chose the second week in February to honor two prominent figures in black history, Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln.
Though in 1976, the celebration was extended from one week to the entire month of February, we still struggle with feeling included in the story of America. Mr. Woodson dreamed that one day his Negro History Week would be eliminated because black history would be recognized as American history and properly recognized as such.
Yet, eighty-six years later, we have national politicians declaring that Black people have no role models. We know this is not true because we have made great strides in education, science, law, medicine and even sports but the media spotlight does not shine brightly on Black achievement. And although our ancestors contributed as much to the success of this country as any other race, their stories still are still not told in textbooks. Our children learn about the Civil War and Sherman’s March to the Sea in history class but they are not told that Sherman knew exactly what Southern strongholds to attack because of the information he received from a Black spy. Mary Elizabeth Bowser risked her life as a spy working in the Confederate Mansion of Jefferson Davis and is probably as much responsible for Sherman’s successful attacks on the South as the Union soldiers themselves but her story still does not appear in most textbooks.
We must accept the sometimes disheartening reality that in our presently overcrowded and underfunded educational system, the focus remains on teaching children the basics of reading, math and science. And although our history is American history and should be included in textbooks, for the most part, it still is not.
All of this means that we must be vigilant and motivated to teach our children about our history and the accomplishments of our people. We simply can’t wait for a failing school system to catch up with reality.Knowledge of our historical success stories, will not only give our children roots but it will also give them the wind beneath their wings so that they may fly into a brighter future.
Carmen Jones is a published author and has created the website www.therootkeepers.com to bring diversity to the study of history and spotlight lesser known stories in black history.