Black History Month: Why February?


by C. Mason Weaver


A Project 21 New Visions Commentary paper published February 1998 by The National Center
for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Court, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002,
202/543-4110, Fax (202) 543-5975, E-Mail Proj[email protected], Web
http://www.nationalcenter.org. Reprints permitted provided source
is credited.



This is Black History Month. I wonder who picked the coldest, wettest, shortest month of the year to remember the history of African people and their descendants in America? How did we come to have Black History Month in February?

Why not remember the history of Black people during January for the month Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and the birthday of Dr. King? Perhaps, we could recognize it during December for the make-believe holiday of Kwanzaa. How about June in recognition of "Juneteenth," the liberation of slaves in Texas?

Why February? Slavery was abolished by Congress in April 1862; the thirteenth amendment was ratified in December of 1865. Why not one of these months? The modern history of Africans in America began with the arrival of Columbus; slavery began in August 1619 at Jamestown, Virginia.

It seems to me that recognition of Black History was chosen with no recognition of history. However, the real question should not be what month, but why. Why do we celebrate or commemorate the history of one race of Americans with a special month? I understand the pride Black Americans have in our history and contributions to this country. However, I fail to understand why we insist upon government recognition, news specials and public acknowledgment of our contributions.

The history of Africans in America as well as that of Black Americans should be maintained privately within the culture, not paraded out every February. When we allow the government, the schools, media and others to lead the remembrance of our history, we are in danger of losing it.

I applaud the NAACP in Oceanside, California as they take the lead in preserving Black History with the Juneteenth celebration and Martin Luther King awards. Both are private, cultural events that will guarantee the integrity of the history. Nevertheless, let us rethink the idea of a special month for Black History.

The Black community is far too complex to be identified as one culture and our history is far too complex for one month. We, Black Americans, should recognize our historical responsibilities every month. There is a lot to gain from history and a large debt to pay.

While we honor the contemporary heroes in our communities let us not forget why we honor them. There are black men that served with the Tuskegee airmen of World War II, retired Marines that broke the Marine color in the 1940's and many other historical accomplishments.

However, the real lessons of history are not what they did but why they were forced to do so. Discrimination, segregation and a racist culture forced and shaped our history. If we honor the history of a struggle, we owe a debt to honor the price paid in the struggle.

Being the descendants of African Kings and Queens is of little value if we are acting like paupers and sheep. It does not matter what month we celebrate our history -- it matters only how you honor it.

There is no honor in remembering their sacrifices if we are not going to take advantage of what they gained. They broke open the doors; the real celebration will be going through them. Struggling through adversity is our history. What we do with the victory is our legacy.

Let us not spend more time remembering our history than we do in making tomorrow's history. We cannot take pride in what someone else has done with his or her situation, only in what we have done with ours. It is called "self-pride."

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(C. Mason Weaver is the president of the Committee to Restore America and a member of the African-American leadership network Project 21.)


Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.

 


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