Why we have Black History Month

Dear Editor, for over 20 years, I was blessed with the opportunity to help Community College students prepare for the GED exam. It was one of my life’s most rewarding experiences. To this day I am grateful to my own teachers, to Forsyth Tech, and especially to my own students.

Each year, Black History Month comes around and makes me think of Brenda. While there is no such thing as a typical student, Brenda had much in common with many: goodhearted, blue collar, hard working. She had not been given a lot of life’s advantages, but had created them for herself and her loved ones. Brenda was a wise and joyful person, plenty smart, but had not finished high school. She was in my class.

One February day, out of the blue, Brenda asked why we have Black History Month. I was tempted to say that if you look at most history books, you’ll see that every month is white history month. I didn’t. I remember asking her to let me think a minute. This was all many years ago. The answer I would give today is no different from the one I gave then.

The great majority of African Americans are descended from people who were brought to this country against their will. Their forebears were torn from their lands, their families, their languages, and their cultures. They came off the boat, if they survived that long, in chains, to become the property and tools of other human beings. They were stripped of their power to make life choices; they were enslaved; they were unable to access education, and they knew that they could not count on keeping their families together. Their privations were unimaginable to us. It is no wonder that their history, their perseverance, and their achievements had been little celebrated or told of. Black History month tells some of that story. It is as rich and interesting as any story ever told by any cultural group. Brenda helped me to understand this.

One Martin Luther King, Jr. does not end centuries of denial and disenfranchisement. One Barack Obama does not erase centuries of prejudice and worse. Black America’s story is every American’s story. Happy Black History Month!

John Hartman