As February comes to end, a few things remain stuck to the American mind the Olympic skating scandal, this year’s less than exciting Mardi Gras on South Street, the NBA All-Star Weekend … and, oh yeah, Black History Month.
It seems that this year especially, the annual celebration of great black leaders and historical figures was lost to gleaming celebrities flocking to the NBA All-Star Weekend here in Philadelphia and the Olympic festivities in Salt Lake City.
Black History Month is a noble idea and would be a useful tool in the evolution of American learning if it were used properly or at all. In most high schools and grade schools, Black History Month is a time when teachers hang pictures of famous blacks on the walls Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. But other than that, what more is being taught?
The knowledge that most people have about Martin Luther King, Jr. is his famous “I have a dream” speech. But who knows the rest of it? King’s speech was perhaps the most powerful and most emotionally charged piece in American history. Wrought with angry eloquence, King pleaded for racially blind brotherhood. Yet over the years, his original 1,500 words have been reduced to four.
Other than the fact that Spike Lee made a movie about his life, what do most people know about Malcolm X? How many people know that he saw his house burned down by white supremacists and later lived through the murder of his father and the institutionalization of his mother?
How many people know about the teachings of Marcus Garvey, who traveled from country to country writing about the poor working conditions of blacks? How many history books have information on the appeals he made to world governments on behalf of these workers, or the time and effort he spent trying to right a number of wrongs?
Still, there are a great number of important figures glossed over in history books and in classrooms. It’s hardly fair to skip over Cesar Chavez, the man who led the first successful farmers’ union, or Crazy Horse, the Lakota warrior who headed the Native American rebellion against the War Department in 1876.
For a nation that prides itself on cultural diversity and individual freedom, there should be more of an emphasis on learning about all of American history the good and the bad, the black, the white and everyone else. Although Columbus is credited with discovering the country, there were people who had been settled here long before he or any other European arrived. Where is the celebration for those people the people whose land was stripped from them and our nation that was built upon their backs?
Columbus thought he found India and inadvertently started a movement that would destroy an entire culture but at the same time create a new one. He never strove to make things better. He didn’t see injustice and try to make it right. He saw a new land with new people and the opportunity to make some money and a name for himself.
And we gave him a holiday.