When I saw the Google doodle of Harriet Tubman on February 1st, I got rather excited. A depiction of the Civil Rights abolitionist, holding a lantern against a starry sky, seemed a creative way to kick-off Black History Month and honor an ex-slave who helped rescue several others.
But then came the backlash, along with the many social media debates over whether Black History Month should be celebrated in the first place . . . and my momentary enthusiasm faded into a pensive mood. Is Black History Month still necessary? Was it ever?
I’m inspired by good works, Period. Seems to me, positive contributions and images of any cultural group ought to be highlighted. But is this what’s really happening in our society? Am I doing a good job teaching my children about their heritage?
One phone call to an elderly cousin, on my husband’s side, led to hours of sitting and talking in her dining room, reviewing photo albums, marriage and birth certificates, as well as ancient family relics. Yet one piece of history stood out to me—an old black and white photo, taken in the early 1800s in Concord, Virginia in a cabin situated on the James River.
I’m not too naïve to believe times weren’t hard or that there wasn’t racial division back then, but something had brought these individuals—Native American, black, and whites—together. This was not a photo taken for a Time Magazine or Newsweek human interest story. It’s a family photo taken on Great-Great-Great Grandma Susie’s front porch. It spoke volumes, reminding me that despite differences, three races stepped across society’s class system and seemed at peace with one another.
The collective, the Beloved Community, is what Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of. He described it as “a spirit of love that transforms opponents into friends.” And I’ll add, it’s a mindset where the “enemy” is no longer perceived as such, but accepted as family. It’s the one thing, for sure, that has been passed down in our family from generation to generation. It’s what my immediate family strives to model daily. For over a decade, my husband and I have hosted an annual 4th of July party, where multiple generations from across the country gather in our home for what seems like a week-long vacation. Our nieces, nephews, and cousins—representing Blacks, Caucasians, Native Americans, Asians and Hispanics—pile into our much too small home and sleep in makeshift beds, which very often means teens sleeping on couches or small children sprawled on floor pallets. The differences in our features are distinct; yet we are a cozy, multicultural family. No matter what race each self-identifies as, our contributions are collective, our histories shared, our lives enmeshed. Together, we weave an intricate tapestry of overlapping stories.
I wish Black History Month didn’t seem like another set-aside program. That when children learn about Alexander Graham Bell or Thomas Edison in school, they’d also learn about Louis Latimer. That when the history books describe great men of the American Revolution, more than one sentence would be written about Crispus Attucks. I believe understanding how we came together years ago will help us learn how to better live together today. Different peoples, various cultures writing American history as one. Until school history books reflect diversity, I’ll continue to appreciate the bits and pieces received once a year, especially in February.
What are your thoughts on togetherness?