As we all know, February is Black History Month.
But what exactly does that mean?
For some, the month serves as a reminder of the important contributions made by African-Americans throughout history. Many of those contributions have been ignored, or the credit for them has been inaccurately documented.
For some, it’s about setting the record straight. It’s about saying, “No, he actually invented that,” or, “Remember that chapter in your fifth grade history book? Turns out, it was wrong.”
For some, the month honors past leaders who fought for civil rights.
For others, it’s time to move on.
Morgan Freeman referred to the designated month in a 60 Minutes interview as “ridiculous”.
“You’re going to relegate my history to a month?” He asked Mike Wallace. “What do you do with yours? Which month is White History Month?”
“I don’t want a Black History Month,” Freeman continued. “Black history is American history.”
When Wallace asked how he proposed to eliminate racism, Freeman replied frankly, “Stop talking about it.”
I’ll be honest. I’m a Morgan Freeman fan. I loved The Shawshank Redemption, and “Through the Wormhole” is a scheduled recording on my DVR. But let’s be honest: When was the last time ignoring a problem lead to its solution?
It’s understandable that Freeman would deem it “ridiculous” that Black History is ironically segregated and reduced to one month, but one month better than no month.
When Freeman made those statements in 2005, President of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Andrew P. Jackson, came forward in agreement.
“In the 21st century, Morgan Freeman is right,” he said. “By now we shouldn’t have to remind anyone of the contributions of Black people.”
Ah, yes. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to remind people of the obvious. In this world, we do.
For example, everyone knows that during the Holocaust in Europe between 1941 and 1945, Nazis systematically murdered about six million Jews. Since it is common knowledge, should we turn Auschwitz into a Disneyland?
And although it’s obvious that over 110,000 innocent citizens of Japanese descent were imprisoned in U.S. internment camps after Pearl Harbor, should we take that exhibit out of the Japanese American National Museum?
What is actually “ridiculous” is to assume that just because a tragedy clearly happened, we can forget it. But should we not remember historical mistakes and learn from them?
“We should be past that, but we’re not,” Jackson said. “Not until you can go to classes and learn about Langston Hughes as part of American literature instead of African American literature.”
He’s absolutely right. Until those history books are corrected, and until “African American history” is appropriately incorporated into regular American history, we should—at the very least—take a month to remember what really happened.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The day we see the truth and cease to speak it is the day we begin to die.”
Black History Month allows the truth to live on. It’s a time to remind each other that African-Americans are just as much a part of this country’s history as all those white faces in our textbooks, if not more. Because not only did they accomplish great things, they did it all uphill, amidst a great struggle.
And that struggle should not be ignored.