Time Flies – Black History Month

Time flies when you’re having fun!  Or maybe time flies when you have a million things going on – even when you’re 12.  February is half way over and, boy oh boy, has it been busy.  Super Bowl Sunday, Groundhog’s Day (he saw his shadow, by the way), my dad’s birthday, Valentine’s Day – a lot’s been going on!  I’ve been busy at school (science sucks, by the way, but pre-algebra is getting better), dancing four days a week (oh my aching hips and knees), and making healthy recipes from my new “100 Days of Real Food” cookbook (a dancer’s gotta eat healthy).  February is almost over and I haven’t even written a blog post about a very important subject, Black History Month.

Black History Month

According to www.history.com, Black History Month, or National African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history.  The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans.  Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month.  Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history.

The story of Black History Month begins in 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States.  That September, the Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by black Americans and other peoples of African descent.  Known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the group sponsored a national Negro History week in 1926, choosing the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.  The event inspired schools and communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs and host performances and lectures.

In the decades the followed, mayors of cities across the country began issuing yearly proclamations recognizing Negro History Week.  By the late 1960s, thanks in part to the Civil Rights Movement and a growing awareness of black identity, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses.  President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”  Since then, every American president has designated February as Black History Month.

Black History Month 2

I am proud to be a black American.  I think that Black History Month is very important.  In school, we do learn about famous African-Americans and events involving blacks in American history like slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, Crispus Attucks, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., and Barack Obama.  But, I do think it’s true that we don’t learn enough about the accomplishments of African-Americans.  I know a lot about famous black Americans because of my parents.  My mom studied history in college and she has a ton of books on the shelves about all kinds of topics in history – a lot of political books and black history books.  This isn’t true for most other kids – black or white – at least not the kids I have gone to school with over the years.  I would like for us to get to the point where there is no need for Black History Month.  The contributions of black Americans are just as important as those of white Americans.  No one race of people should be talked about just during a single month of the year.  History is history and we should learn about people of all races throughout the year.    After all, black history is American history.

Martin Luther King Jr.

ML KingMartin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929.  He was a Baptist minister and social activist who was very important to the Civil Rights Movement in America.  He worked for equal rights for African Americans during the mid-1950s and into the 1960s until he was assassinated in 1968.  Martin Luther King Jr. was inspired by the teachings of nonviolence from Mahatma Gandhi.  Martin Luther King wanted equality for African Americans, the poor, and victims of injustice.  He used peaceful protests to create change in society.  He was the driving force behind events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington.  These events were responsible for changing the laws in America such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.   He is remembered each year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a U.S. federal holiday since 1986.

POn December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a secretary of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus and was arrested.  Activists, led by Martin Luther King Jr., coordinated a bus boycott that lasted for 381 days.  This caused the bus company and local downtown business owners to lose a lot of money.  The Supreme Court ruled segregated seating on public buses was unconstitutional in November 1956.

During what became the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. traveled across the country and around the world.  He gave lectures and speeches on nonviolent protest and civil rights.  He met with religious leaders, activists, and political leaders.  He wrote books and articles and advocated for changes to laws that discriminated against African Americans all around the country.  His house was firebombed.  He was stabbed.  He received death threats, but he did not quit.

King and other Civil Rights leaders used the philosophy of nonviolence during the Birmingham, Alabama campaign of 1963, in which activists used a boycott, sit-ins and marches to protest segregation, unfair hiring practices, and other injustices in one of America’s most racially divided cities.  Martin Luther King was arrested for his involvement on April 12, 1963.  While he was in jail he wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” an letter to a group of white clergymen who had criticized his tactics.  In that letter he defended his use of nonviolent civil disobedience to bring about change.

Later that year, Martin Luther King Jr. worked with a number of civil rights and religious groups to organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  He organized a peaceful political rally designed to shed light on the injustices African Americans continued to face across the country.  Held on August 28, 1963 the March on Washington was attended by 200,000 to 300,000 people.  The March on Washington was thought of as one of the most important moments in the history of the Civil Rights Movement.  It helped to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

During the March on Washington, Martin Luther King made his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream.”  He called for peace and equality between the races.  It was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial – a monument to the president who a century earlier had brought down the institution of slavery in the United States — he shared his vision of a future in which “this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”  Later that year he was named Man of the Year by TIME magazine and in 1964 became the youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the spring of 1965, Martin Luther King went to Selma, Alabama to protest for voting rights for African Americans.  The protesters were treated very badly and subjected to significant violence, even though they were peaceful.  What made Selma different is that the violence was captured on television.  The brutal scene outraged many Americans and inspired supporters from across the country to gather in Selma and take part in a march to Montgomery led by King and supported by President Lyndon B. Johnson, who sent in federal troops to keep the peace. That August, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed the right to vote – first awarded by the 15th Amendment of the Constitution – to all African Americans.

Later, Martin Luther King began to address issues beyond African American Civil Rights to issues such as the Vietnam War and poverty among Americans of all races.  In 1967, he involved himself in a program known as the Poor People’s Campaign, which was to include a massive march on the capital.  On the evening of April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot while standing on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee where he had traveled to support a sanitation workers’ strike.  He died at the age of 39.  After years of campaigning by activists, members of Congress, Coretta Scott King, and many others, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill in 1983 creating a United States federal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King.  It is observed on the third Monday in January and was first celebrated in 1986.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  We may celebrate his life and accomplishments one day of the year, but we should celebrate his philosophy every day of every year.  And more than that, we should honor him by supporting equality and practicing nonviolence and tolerance and love every day of our lives.

50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer, 4th of July, and Why I am Proud to be an American

I wanted to write about my country today. It’s taken me all day to write this blog post, but I think it’s important. My parents and my grandma voted in the election last Tuesday and we are going to celebrate America’s birthday on the 4th of July this Friday. But there is something else too. For the last two weeks, I’ve been seeing a lot of stories on the news about the Mississippi Freedom Summer. My parents have also been watching programs about it on t.v. The other night, my brother and I watched one of them and I learned that Mississippi Freedom Summer happened over a period of ten weeks in the summer of 1964. During this time, more than 700 students from around the United States volunteered to work with civil rights organizers and local African-Americans in the fight to rid the nation of white supremacy and racism. It took place in one of America’s most racist, segregated states in the south – Mississippi.

During the summer of 1964, all of these people came to Mississippi in order to register blacks to vote. If black people were allowed to vote, then they could vote for different leaders who were not racist and didn’t believe in segregation, but wanted all people to be equal. Black men won the right to vote in 1870, because of the passing of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution; but for the next 100 years many were unable to exercise their right to vote. White officials and leaders kept black people from voting by making them pay poll taxes and making them pass literacy tests, even though a lot of black people could not read for reasons due to racism. They also scared black people away from voting. They beat them, lynched them, and killed them. There were a lot of other racist things going on in society too, but civil rights leaders thought that if black people could only vote then they would be able to change things.

Freedom Summer volunteers and civil rights activists were threatened and harassed by white supremacist groups and local residents, but also by the police, who should have been protecting them! School buildings, the houses where the volunteers lived, 37 black churches, and 30 black homes and businesses were firebombed or burned during that summer! Most of the time, whoever did it was never found and punished. More than 1,000 black and white volunteers were arrested, and at least 80 were beaten by groups of white racists or even police officers. The worst thing that happened though was the murder of three young civil rights workers. One was a black volunteer named James Chaney, and the other two were white volunteers named Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. On June 21, 1964, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner went to go investigate a church bombing near Philadelphia, Mississippi. They were stopped by the police and arrested for no reason at all. The police held them for several hours on fake traffic violations. They released them at night and it was the last time they were seen alive. Their bodies were found under a dam six weeks later. They had been shot and beaten to death.

The murders made it into newspapers all over the country. Lots of people became interested in civil rights and began to support the Civil Rights Movement. All of this happened fifty years ago this summer! Things got better. The Civil Rights Movement changed American history and the lives of every black person in America. It makes me sad and mad to know what went on during that time and how black people were treated in my country, but I feel good that things are different now. The President of the United States is black, you know! That makes me proud! The rest of my blog today will tell you all of the reasons that I am proud to be an American.

As an eleven year old girl living in the United States, I am proud to be an American. As Americans we have certain advantages over other countries that make us different. For example, we do not have a dictator; we elect our leaders like the President of the United States. As American citizens, we have certain rights granted to us in the United States Constitution such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. Another very important advantage to being American is school. All American citizens have the right to a free public education.

In the United States of America we elect out leaders. We are a democracy, which means that we the people have a say in our government. This is true whether it is the local school board all the way up to the President of the United States. We participate in our government through voting and electing leaders. Regular citizens can even run for office! We are allowed to contact our leaders and tell them what we think about how they are doing their jobs and what kinds of things we would like for them to do. In many other countries, such as Cuba, China, North Korea, and Syria, just to name a few, citizens do not have these rights. The countries that I named are dictatorships, which mean that you have no say in anything at all! Not only do they not allow their citizens to vote and elect their leaders, you cannot speak out against the leaders if you do not like what they are doing. It can get you put in jail or even killed. Many of these dictators will be put into power and they will stay there until they die. In America, we have a choice. If we do not think our leaders are doing a good job, we have the opportunity to elect someone new the next time. Amendment 22 limits the term of our President to two so that somebody else can have a chance to be President.

There are twenty-seven Amendments to the United States Constitution. The first ten are called the Bill of Rights. These Amendments put into America’s defining law what our rights as citizens are. Amendment 1 gives us freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. We can practice whatever religion we want because we have the freedom to do so. In some countries, people are persecuted for not practicing the religion that the government says is the best or in some places, the government won’t allow its citizens to practice any religion at all. Freedom of speech means that we can say whatever we want to without fear that we will be harmed if somebody gets angry or has a different opinion. This freedom also means that we can speak out against our leaders or our government in order to make it better. Freedom of press means that we can print just about anything that we want in the newspaper, as long as it’s true. In other countries, especially countries with dictators, people can get in big trouble for doing these things, maybe even killed.

In America we have the right to an education that is free so that all of our citizens can go to school and have good lives. Our government doesn’t just provide this; it requires it because it wants a country of educated citizens. If we choose, we can go to private school, religious school, or be home schooled. That is what is so great about America; we have the freedom to choose. We can go to school no matter the color of our skin (Amendment 15). Women can also be educated and have the right to vote (Amendment 19). In October 2012, a 15-year-old girl in Pakistan named Malala Yousafzai was attacked on her way home from school. She was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban. The reason was because she wanted to go to school. In her country, she stood up for the right of women and girls to have an education in her country. She lived and has become a symbol all over the world of fighting injustice in countries that do not respect the rights and freedoms of its citizens. In America, I can go to school without fear of being hurt because I am a girl.

And something else that I talked to my parents about that makes me proud to be an American and to be a citizen of, in my opinion, what is the greatest country in the world is that in American we learn from our mistakes, we change, and we grow. On Monday, January 20th, 2014 we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American who stood up for what he believed. He fought for equal rights for African Americans in the 1950s and the 1960s when American wasn’t quite so free for everybody. He fought against segregation and wanted equality for all people. He was eventually killed because so many people didn’t like what he was saying and fighting for. But in the end, our government changed. Our citizens worked together to make this happen because more and more people began to realize that Dr. King was right and that in America we had to do something different. And we can’t forget all of the volunteers that worked for voting rights for black people during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964, who were also responsible for changing our country for the better.

It is because of them that I can attend school and sit next to other kids who do not have the same skin color as me, but we can still be friends and get a good education, no matter our religion, no matter our race. And because of that I am proud to be an American and live in a country where I can be truly free. Thanks for reading my post. It’s something different than fashion and dance for a change. Please come back soon.

American Flag

The American Flag – Happy Birthday America