February is Black History Month. I am a legitimate senior citizen and I can remember when this month of extolling the greatness of our people started out as a week.
The person most associated with starting the celebration of Black history is Carter G. Woodson. Records indicate that he was a scholar and that he studied our history. He was born in New Canton, Va., in 1875 and passed away in Washington, D.C., in 1950. I can only imagine the challenges Dr. Woodson faced as he embarked upon a new level of knowledge and understanding about our history.
Black history is for all of us, Black and white alike. As Black people, our history should make us proud and for white people it should make them knowledgeable.
It is my opinion we can’t live in a country and share in its evolution when our history has been maligned and mismanaged. We know about Plymouth Rock, but we should also know about Jamestown. We know about the Mayflower, but we should also know about the Middle Passage. History chronicles well our failures but doesn’t give equal billing to our successes.
My initial exposure to Black history took place in my home. My parents made sure that the history about us was a steady part of my educational diet. My classmates and I celebrated Black History Week at our elementary school in Winston-Salem, N.C. We would learn about Black people such as Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth but after that one week of Black history appearing, it disappeared just as quickly.
There are several ways to look at this fleeting week’s lesson in Black history. I know now there were more Black people to learn about such as Joseph Cinqué who led a revolt on a Spanish slave ship and Boston King who fought in the Revolutionary War.
I suspect the times in our country weren’t ripe enough to fully engage in Black history. Fortunately, our parents were our Black history teachers. Many weren’t certified history teachers, but they were all qualified life teachers. They gave us what we needed so our history lessons were yearlong. Now, if you fast-forward, Black history is all around us. Ralph Bunche, Charles Drew and Shirley Chisholm are just a few names that we need to know. The problem is that, in my opinion, we are not teaching our children about them.
Black History Month as we know it is slowly fading away in the eyes of many. You will see a few programs across the country and even fewer in today’s schools. I think those in charge of schools see it as unimportant. As a result, students don’t acknowledge it and teachers don’t create an environment to teach it.
There is a shifting pattern when it comes to teaching Black history to our children. Could it be that everyone is okay with little or no history about us? Or maybe it is the current mood of the country. While that may have some impact, this shift was happening prior to the current presidential administration.
Too many African-American students are oblivious to the contributions of their forefathers and foremothers. Yes, they will probably know about Dr. King, Rosa Parks and Jesse Jackson. But do they know about John Lewis, Andrew Young and Barbara Jordan? Do they know the names Althea Gibson, Madame C.J. Walker and Arthur Ashe?
Men and women who look like me made indelible marks of excellence on this country. Our history can’t be denied or hidden. It must be acknowledged and uncovered.
Dr. James B. Ewers Jr. is a native of Winston-Salem, N.C. and a product of its parochial and public schools. He is a youth advocate, consultant, author and president emeritus of the Teen Mentoring Committee of Ohio.