by Monique Duson
Black History Month has always been my favorite month. Aside from it being my birthday month, it’s the one month in school where we talked about all the fabulous accomplishments of African Americans. Even as a child, I looked forward to studying figures like Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, Daniel Hale Williams, Langston Hughes, Sojourner Truth, Madam C.J. Walker, and Martin Luther King during the month of February.
I could fill a page remembering all of the black men and women who contributed to American history through abolition, science, music, literature, and more.
But over the last two years, I’ve felt increasingly conflicted over whether or not Black History Month is an idea congruent with the Christian faith. There’s something about February that’s begun to feel like I’m participating in partiality – favoring one group over all the others. Now, I’m not trying to bind your conscience to this; I’m merely stating the places my thoughts have gone. Nor am I saying that Black History Month was never needed.
BLACK HISTORY IS AMERICAN HISTORY
Beginning as Black History Week, The Library of Congress states, “National Black History Month has its origins in 1915 when historian and author Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. This organization is now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History External (ASALH). Through this organization, Dr. Woodson initiated the first Negro History Week in February 1926. Dr. Woodson selected the week in February that included the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two key figures in the history of Black Americans.” The ASALH expanded Black History Week to Black History Month in 1975 under President Ford.
Arguably, Black History Week originated during a pivotal time in our country’s history.
We were in the middle of segregation and Jim Crow laws. The accomplishments of African Americans were neither recognized nor celebrated. Black History Week filled a concrete void in the education and representation of our nation – black history is American history. And black history isn’t simply limited to those of African American descent.
ABOLITIONIST AND CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENTS WERE BASED IN HUMAN DIGNITY
Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison founded the American Anti-Slavery Society working for the freedom of black slaves; author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, penned the atrocities of slavery; and Levi Coffin helped in the underground railroad. Have you heard of Barbara Henry? She’s the school teacher that came in to teach Ruby Bridges when other teachers quit their positions so they wouldn’t have to teach a black child. These people were all white.
And, yet, the abolitionist and Civil Rights Movements weren’t just black and white movements; they were American movements.
Many did so because of their belief in the Judeo-Christian worldview – that people are created in the image of God with equal dignity, value, and worth. These were pro-life movements! And they were fought by people of varying ethnicities for the freedom of African Americans.
Here is where we get to one aspect of my growing discomfort.
HISTORY ISN’T LIMITED TO ONE ETHNIC GROUP
Today the accomplishments of African Americans are freely celebrated far and wide every day. Slogans like #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoysShine remind us daily of the amazing things African Americans do. On the other hand, I’m noticing an increasing effort to ridicule or omit the achievements of white people and other ethnic groups.
Truly, black history includes the contributions of a myriad of different ethnic groups. Dr. Woodson’s inclusion of Abraham Lincoln in the original formation of Black History Week reminds us that history is never limited to just one group and that both whites and blacks are prominent within African American history. To omit some is to rob us of the truth of our American history.
A bigger problem for me, though, is that, as a Christian, I no longer see my ethnic identity as being primary.
COMING TOGETHER TO CELEBRATE EVERY LIFE AS VALUED BY GOD
Once I came into Christ, I became part of a huge, global multiethnic, multilingual family. The universal church has been multiethnic and multicultural since Pentecost (Acts 2:8-11). As I’ve grown in my faith over the last few years, I’m no longer convinced that black history should be celebrated within the Christian context (such as local churches or Christian schools), as it creates a disproportionate focus on only one or two ethnic minorities.
I believe a better approach could be found in coming together and celebrating the diverse heritages that make up the entire family of God. Consider what a testimony it would be to the power of the Gospel to have a day or month celebrating the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). Participants could share food from their country of origin, sing worship songs from various cultural contexts, and share testimonies about the Gospel going out to the nations.
While today, the pro-life movement is largely centered on abortion (and rightly so), truly the pro-life movement fights for the just treatment of every human life, inside or outside of the womb, because every human life is created in God’s image. The American story of black history is a pro-life story.
Family — regardless of ethnicity or skin color, we need each other for a full narrative of history. Believers in Christ, together with Him at the center, tell a full story.
This article was originally published through Live Action. Reprinted here by permission.