He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6.8
Today is March 1. That means that we are just a few days away from the Oscars. Last year the movie Hidden Figures was nominated for 3 awards. The story, about three African American mathematicians who worked for NASA and helped make Project Mercury and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon possible, was relatively unknown to most people, including the African American population. It also means that Black History month is officially over. The roots of Black History month began with Carter G. Woodson a Ph.D. graduate from Harvard University in 1912. He recognized that his professors minimized the importance and vitality of Black history and believed that educating people about Black people would help foster social change. In 1926 he wrote:
If a race has no history, if it has not worthwhile traditions, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.
Woodson did not want the telling of “what was done to and for the Negro but what the Negro was thinking, feeling, attempting and doing” throughout history. And so Black History WEEK was founded. In 1976 it was determined that it would be during the whole month of February.
In the last couple of years there has been a debate over the pros and cons of relegating Black History to a month. The pro, obviously, is that European history dominates most historical discourse in terms of what is taught in the majority of schools as well as in prevailing thought. The con, however, is that by having a month, it compartmentalizes, and therefore negates, the reality of black history. It is deemed by many in the Black community that the practice of Black history month gives off the subtle suggestion that Blacks need to measure up, to aspire to achieve greatness like white people.
According to the NAACP even Woodson himself hoped that there would come a time when it would be unnecessary for the practice to continue. However, Civil Rights education is totally absent from state standards in 5 states, and has become an optional class in many public schools. Furthermore, in places where Black History is taught, it often focuses on M. L. King, Rosa Parks, and Abraham Lincoln. Malcolm X was fond of stating, “Our history did not begin in chains.”
As most people who know me are aware, when busing started in Indianapolis I attended Crispus Attucks High School. The history of Crispus Attucks himself is fascinating but the story of my High School is especially so. Unable to get jobs teaching in other schools, many of Attucks’ teachers held doctorates and that school was known for its educational rigor. And right around the corner from Attucks is the Madam C. J. Walker building, named for the self-made millionaire.
I am not writing this to state my opinion on the continuation of Black History month. I do, however, possess a Masters in History and the one thing I discovered is that history is easily distorted. There are those who are already denying the reality of the Holocaust. We continue to celebrate Columbus Day and his ‘discovery of our country” when he never, ever stepped foot on North American soil, and we neglect the on-going social realities of the people who already occupied this land. I could go on and on, but you get the point. History is often slanted – shocking, I know! It is not just the internet or Facebook that distorts things and impacts our thinking and our assumptions.
The Church, likewise, has not been immune to this distortion. Not historically and certainly not today. It has deeply impacted our theology, our understanding of ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ, and our work and influence on the world. Humility is the answer, the only answer, really. I am not the center of the universe. We don’t have all of the answers. But we believe in a Creator, Redeeming God who invites us to walk humbly with him. May we do so.