Black History Month – Time to Reflect
I have to confess to being somewhat conflicted over the celebration of Black History Month. On the one hand, the history of black people is the history of the United States and the New World; from Pedro Alonso Nino, the black navigator who accompanied Christopher Columbus on his first expedition, to Crispus Attucks, a black itinerant seaman who was one of the first to fall in our fight for independence against Great Britain, to the exploits of the 9th and 10th US Cavalry, black soldiers who helped open the American west, people of color have played a crucial role in the development of the country. Having a specific holiday to highlight this seems to be more of an afterthought; and that brings me to my ‘on the other hand.
Being inquisitive by nature, I have always probed and pried for the story behind the story; more at home in the stacks of a library than a crowd of people. I had gone from first grade to high school without knowing any of the facts mentioned in the previous paragraph. It was during some ten years of working by day and attending college at night that I started learning these things. Except for Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, and one or two others, I had no idea of the significant role played by black people in America.
One fact led to another, and to another. I grew up in Texas, and until I became an adult, I had always assumed, based on books, TV, and movies, that the cowboys of the old west were all white, with a few Hispanics thrown in for comic relief. I’d never heard of Deadwood Dick, one of the most feared gunfighters of the old west; or the role of the Colored Cavalry and United States Colored Infantry (units like the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments) in protecting settlers moving west, fighting the Comanche in Texas, and surveying routes to the Pacific Ocean.
The role that blacks, Asians, and Hispanics played in making the country the great nation it is today; when I was growing up; got scant mention, if ever at all. It wasn’t an afterthought; it was a never thought. So, there is need of a special day to highlight and recall the role played by people not of European origin. And, not just for them. People of a majority ethnic group, growing up in a society and being erroneously led to believe that they and they alone are responsible for all development and progress, grow up warped, and develop a false sense of superiority that leads to a society of ‘we versus they’ and even worse, to the kinds of societies that supported and defended enslavement of people on the basis of their skin color or ethnic heritage.
Black History Month is for everyone, regardless of race, irrespective of gender, and not just Americans. People, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, should be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Setting aside this month to look at what has been achieved by those who were considered less than fully human by the ruling majority is one way to make King’s words a reality.