From moments of outcry to movements of passion, the Black experience has been one that many will define as a struggle. A struggle for identity, a struggle for equality, a struggle for social justice, a struggle for peace… a struggle to matter.
From 1619, when slavery branded the shores of North America, to 1776 with a declaration that did not make all persons independent, to the American classroom in 2022 that may not include our amazing stories of triumph throughout American history, it has been an uphill battle at times. And yet, even during struggle, there have been moments of triumph, community uplift and achievement.
It was certainly Jubilee Day in 1865 (now celebrated as Juneteenth) when freedom from slavery was proclaimed here in Texas, a full two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation officially outlawed slavery for the country and proclaimed a freedom that could not be claimed by all.
Women led the charge during the suffrage movement towards the right to vote. In 1896, Black women, including Harriet Tubman, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Frances E.W. Harper, founded the National Association of Colored Women’s Club (NACWC) leading up to 1920, when some American women won full voting rights…. but the struggle continued.
When 250,000 people gathered for the 1963 March on Washington, it was about more than a single protest, it was about jobs and freedom, drawing attention to continued challenges and inequalities faced by Black Americans a century after emancipation. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech was not born out of a moment but out of a movement.
As a Black American, I appreciate the annual celebrations of Dr. King; however, from an early age, I was taught about the cadre of Black activists and leaders of the movement who shared their gifts concerning the struggle. Fannie Lou Hamer (civil rights activist), Jo Ann Robinson (heroine of the Montgomery bus boycott) and Rev. C.T. Vivian (American minister and civil rights organizer) were stalwarts in the civil rights movement, sacrificing peace, provision, proximity and security to proclaim the truth of a people needing change.
While we have survived Jim Crow laws and black codes, we are still surviving redlining and modern discrimination because of hair texture or other things related to race. We continue to press forward despite spending years in a situation perpetually deficient due to separate and unequal mandates. Those things meant to oppress the culture have compelled the culture to rise despite the oppression.
We are ministers, inventors, surgeons, engineers, singers, authors, CEOs, professors, mayors, Nobel Peace prize winners, senators, vice presidents and yes… we even became President of the United States of America. These achievements have led us to continue, as a people, with a shared aim of not just holding on until our change comes but reaching for better with each new day.
We thank Carter G. Woodson for the creation of Negro History Week in Washington, DC, in February of 1926. Woodson believed the promotion of Black history and culture would aid in the struggle for racial uplift. He wanted to ensure that school children were exposed to Black history, especially the important roles played by Black Americans in the creation of this country, and thereby understand their worth and their right to equality in America. Negro History Week became Black History Month in 1976. Many ask the relevance of a continued annual celebration of achievements during the month of February. I would argue that the February celebration is still a means of transformation and change. We celebrate Black history because it is American history.