Black History Month is here, an event I look forward to as I am a dedicated though uncertified history buff. When I was in grade school and high school the subject of African-Americans and their contribution to this country was almost completely ignored. This meant generations (generations of non-blacks anyway) were never exposed to a multitude of exciting and inspirational events and personalities. America would not be what it is today without them, so it’s perfectly fitting that at least a month be set aside as a reminder. And since Black History is an integral part of our country’s story, I think a small portion of the February celebration should be devoted to the remembrance of the white people who have been an integral part of black history.

Just as blacks cannot be excluded from our country’s history, neither can that heroic contingent of white abolitionists, protestors and freedom riders be excluded from the African-American story. We’re familiar with names like William Lloyd Garrison, Elijah Lovejoy, and Violet Liuzzo, but there have been many, many lesser-known fighters for equal rights. So I’m suggesting that just a portion of Black History Month focus on these individuals – maybe just 15 minutes at the dinner table in February.

If you’re looking for someone local, I suggest James Burr (no relation to me). In the 1840s Burr and a few others attempted to escort slaves to freedom from Missouri to Illinois, but they were captured and sentenced to 12 years in a federal penitentiary. After his release from prison, Burr lived in Illinois and chose to be buried on the campus of Wheaton College because it was a place where blacks and whites were treated equally. You can still find a plaque on the school’s campus at the original site of his burial. It would make a fitting visit for all those who support and appreciate Black History Month.

Tim Burr
Oak Park

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