Thursday, February 01, 2007
February 2007 TransGriot Column
Honoring Black History Month
Copyright 2007, THE LETTER
“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”
Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), Father of Black History Month
February is the month when the nation takes 28 days (29 during a leap year) to focus on the contributions of African-Americans thanks to the Herculean efforts of Dr. Carter G. Woodson. (who spent several semesters at Berea College working on his bachelor’s in Literature). On February 7, 1926 he founded Negro History Week, the precursor of what would later become Black History Month.
As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, I have a deep love of history and agree with Dr. Woodson about the importance of knowing what your predecessors have accomplished in order to chart a better future. One of the reasons that Black History Month exists is because despite the fact that we’ve been on American shores since 1619, for too long the contributions of African-Americans in the building of our nation were either overlooked or deliberately covered up.
It’s to your benefit to know, for example that Garrett Morgan invented the gas mask. There’s the unmatched combat record of the Tuskegee Airmen or the exploits of the Buffalo Soldiers to peruse. Get to know Benjamin Banneker, the mathematician who was part of the survey team that helped lay out Washington D.C. and put together a best selling almanac that was widely read in the 13 colonies.
Those accomplishments even apply in our current time. Philip Emeagwali not only built the world’s fastest computer in the early 90s but came up with a process that allows for more crude oil to be recovered from drilled wells. He is the gentleman responsible for the increasing accuracy of weather forecasts you see on the local news. Those are just tantalizing examples of the historical buffet awaiting you.
“Our song, our toil, our cheer and warning have been given to this nation in blood brotherhood. Are not these gifts worth the giving? Is not this work and striving? Would America have been America without her Negro people?”
W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903
The same could be said about GLBT African-Americans as well. Our contributions to the American family quilt are numerous. Gay writers like Zora Neale Hurston and Countee Cullen were major forces in the Harlem Renaissance. Many of the major civil rights events, including the 1963 March on Washington were organized by Bayard Rustin, a gay man who helped Dr. King co-found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Speaking of the Harlem Renaissance, that planted cultural seeds that decades later allowed Alvin Ailey to found his world famous dance troupe. The Harlem Renaissance also gave birth to the Harlem drag balls that morphed into the ballroom culture depicted in the movie ‘Paris Is Burning.’ Chicago had their own version on the South Side called the Finnie’s Ball, named after its founder Alfred Finnie.
We were there at Stonewall. One of the plaintiffs in the Lawrence v. Texas case that overturned sodomy laws was an African-American by the name of Tyron Garner. One of the seven couples in the Goodridge v. Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health case that made marriage equality a possibility has an African-American lesbian in it. We GLBT African-Americans are still making contributions today fighting for GLBT civil rights and building the GLBT community
Black History Month is not just a FUBU (For Us By Us) production. Yes, it helps my people better understand where they’ve been, where they are going and build pride and self-esteem in our kids. It’s vitally important for other cultures to know what we have contributed not only to American society, but the world as well. Black history does not start and stop with slavery, Martin Luther King, the creation of jazz, achievements in sports or the Civil Rights Movement.
It is much more than that. It is American history.