Black History Month – Needed now more than ever

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The perennial debate about the need for Black History Month has intensified this year as the shock and awe of America electing its first Black president still reverberates across this land.

The perennial debate about the need for Black History Month has intensified this year as the shock and awe of America electing its first Black president still reverberates across this land.

Even before Barack Obama achieved that extraordinary breakthrough, there were some who questioned the necessity of a special month to recognize the many unknown and unsung achievements of African Americans.

With Obama as President, the logic goes, we have now achieved Dr. King’s dream of a non-racial America where everyone is judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. I wish it were so.

All one needs to do is look at the glaring disparities between Blacks and Whites in income, employment, incarceration rates, educational achievement and health status to see that race still matters in America. Equal opportunity is still part of the unfinished business of American democracy.

In 1926, after centuries of Blacks being excluded, not only from the mainstream of American life, but also from the textbooks in our schools, the African American historian, Carter G. Woodson did a service to all Americans when he created Negro History Week, which was expanded to Black History Month in 1976. Woodson’s vision was one of unity and inclusion.

He said, “What we need is not a history of selected races or nations but the history of the world void of national bias, race, hate and religious prejudice.”

That is a goal that America is still struggling to achieve.

In fact, legislatures in a number of states, including New York and New Jersey, have recently passed laws mandating or encouraging teachers to broaden their history courses to include more ethnic, racial and gender diversity. That is why we still recognize March as Women’s History Month, May as Jewish American History Month, September 15 to October 15 as Hispanic Heritage Month and February as Black History Month.

These celebrations serve a dual purpose: first to build self-esteem among historically oppressed people and second to remind all Americans that in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, our diversity is our greatest strength.

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