Black History Month Reflections

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By Pastor Edward L. Palmer, Sr

CJJ, Immediate Past Chair

Black History Month is a time to reflect and celebrate the contributions of Black Americans to the progress and development of our nation. It is also a time to measure how far we have come to forming that “more perfect union” spoken of by our founders. 

Founders of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, Carter G. Woodson and Preacher Jesse E. Mooreland started Negro History Week in 1926 which over time that evolved into Black History Month.  They chose a week in February to pay homage to the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. By the 1960’s, what started out as a weeklong celebration and recognition of Black accomplishments and sacrifice, was becoming a month-long event on college campuses and in cities around the country.  By 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month by calling on the public to honor the contributions and accomplishments of Black Americans to our nation. 

We celebrate Black History Month so that we continue to learn and commemorate the magnitude that Black lives have had on the American life and culture. During this time of reflection, we learn about people like Sarah Boone who, in 1892, designed the ironing board we use today.  Or New York Nurse Mary Van Brittan Brown who, in 1966, co-invented the home security system.  It received a patent in 1969 and various elements of her design are used in security systems today. We also learn about the likes of Garrett Morgan who, in 1923, invented the three light traffic light system and improved the sewing machine and gas mask. Born in Covington, Kentucky, Frederick McKinley Jones, in 1940, invented the refrigerated truck. And let us not forget Percy Julian, a Black chemist who was not allowed to attend high school but went on to earn his PH. D. It was his research that led to the development of drugs to treat glaucoma and arthritis.  To this day, Dr. Julian is considered one of the most influential chemists in American history.  

I could go on and on with a list of inventors, educators, jurist, politicians, doctors, advocates, community leaders, athletes, and businesspeople. The list of Black people contributions to humanity is incalculable and spans every field and occupation across every generation since our ancestors were stolen and brought to the shores of this nation over 400 years ago. The history of Black America is rich with unsung heroes and she-roes, men and women who have made contributions to their communities, cities, states, and the nation. 

During this month-long celebration, we honor the legacies of those brave men and women who participated in the underground railroad. We honor the Kentucky couple, Harriet Bell Hayden and Lewis Hayden, that escaped to Canada, settled in Boston, and opened a clothing store. They went on to join the Boston Vigilance Committee and turn their home into a boarding house, where they have been credited with saving hundreds of enslaved people who escaped to free states following the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

We have heard about and celebrated the bravery of Rosa Parks for not giving up her seat on the bus in 1956. Yet a year before Rosa Parks, the 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was dragged off a bus in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give us her seat to a white person. She was arrested and taken to an adult jail. Although often times overlooked, her defiance of bus segregation would ultimately spark Rosa Parks’ actions and the 381-day bus boycott. 

Previously, I shared that the second reason Black History Month exists is to measure how far we have come in forming a “more perfect union” spoken of by our founders.  The formation of that “more perfect union” was not accomplished with the end of the Civil War, the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, or the passage of the 13th and 14th Amendments. In fact, we did not reach our zenith hour with the United States Supreme Court 1954 ruling on Brown v. Board of Education as well as the enactment of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964. The 1968 passing of the Fair Housing Act did not end the struggle of Black People for civil rights, equal opportunity employment, fair banking practices, and equitable treatment under the law. 

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that was “…deeply rooted in the American dream.” Dr. King dreamed of a day when “…this nation would rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.” A creed that stated a national belief that all men were created equal and therefore deserved equal rights, opportunity, access, and equal treatment. 

Yet, in 2020, nearly 60 years after Dr. King told the world about his dream, we have been confronted with the tragic murders of Ahmad Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. We witnessed a world-wide pandemic that preyed upon the  cumulative disadvantages of Black people. Every day Black people in the United States disproportionately experience poverty, unemployment, incarceration, and violence at the hands of those sworn to serve and protect us. Our communities are the most vulnerable when faced with cataclysmic events, such as hurricanes, a drug epidemics, environmental travesties, or a global pandemic.  Sixty years after Dr. King told us of his dream, the struggle for civil rights as well as equal rights, justice, and access goes on today. 

So, as we gather at Black History Month events, celebrate the legacies of our forefathers and celebrate the progress that has been made.  Remember that pivotal day in August of 1619, when the struggle for citizenship, freedom, justice, and civil/human rights was shaped by the first slave ship heading to the New World with stolen Black bodies. Remember that although we come a long way, we still have a long road to travel.