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.