February is Black History Month. What initially began as Negro History Week in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson soon morphed into an entire month-long celebration because the contributions of African Americans to this country cannot be contained by a mere seven days.
Just a couple of years ago, uninformed black people had something smart to say about Black History Month being the shortest month of the year. That timeframe question or derivative thereof, would repeatedly be presented so that the importance of Black History Month could be negated by focusing on minutiae.
“It’s the shortest month,” and “I can’t deal with hearing about slavery,” were just some of the commentaries being bandied about. In retrospect, it seems like a conspiracy to instill in black people the notion that we didn’t need to highlight the accomplishments of those men, women and children stolen from Africa and brought to America.
Now we’re halfway through the month, and instead of its importance being magnified, I’m seeing less focus on it by major companies. But, as it was at the beginning, it is up to black people to focus on our history 365 days a year, with a special emphasis in the month of February. We cannot bemoan what we don’t demand!
Where are the red, black and green Pan-African flags flying in this city? With any other group that has a day celebrating their ethnicity, homeland, or sexual orientation, you can see their flags flying everywhere. Especially on their cars. But the flag that represents red for the blood, black for the skin, green for the land, is noticeably absent. I fly the flag on my car 365 days, as well as one hanging from my rearview. Maybe if an entrepreneur bought a bunch of those flags and stood out on the corner selling them, it would be a visual reminder that black people should fly the flag in January for Dr. King’s birthday; in February for Black History Month; in April for Booker T. Washington; in May for Malcolm X; in August for Marcus Garvey and the Bud Billiken Day Parade, etc. In truth I could list a reason for every month of the year.
Where are all the television specials highlighting the contributions of African Americans this month? What other group has produced so many memorable and historical accomplishments like the Buffalo Soldiers, the Tuskegee Airmen or Harriet Tubman? The orations of Frederick Douglass are as poetic as anything Shakespeare wrote. The same can be said of Langston Hughes who captures the very essence of the black experience in America. Just the fact that our ancestors were freed without anything other than the rags on their backs and the knowledge in their heads, and over 155 years later we are still here, is a testimony to their strength, intelligence, and resilience.
The state of Illinois has been mandated to teach black history in public schools. I personally believe that black people should form a Saturday black history school, and send our children to it so they can learn the history. Within our individual families, we should pay homage to those unknown enslaved ancestors who paved the way for us to be here today.
Black History Month is not only a month to celebrate.
It is a time to reflect.
Arlene Jones writes a column for our sister publication, the Austin Weekly News.