Black History is American History

February marked our nation’s annual celebration of Black History. For twenty-eight days—and sometimes twenty-nine—we look back and acknowledge the accomplishments of African Americans and the impact they have had on our nation and society. Many see this as the time to research and celebrate the contributions of African Americans to this nation. Often these contributions include unfathomable loss and sacrifice intended to push our country to be a more equitable society. And while this month means so much to me, I can’t help but feel that Black History has been relegated to the proverbial “back of the bus,” treated separate and distinct from the rest of American History.

For the past several weeks, on LinkedIn, I have used my social media presence to post the extraordinary accomplishments of African American men and women, such as Hiram Revels (the first African American United States Senator), Jane Bolin (the first African American female Judge in the United States), Constance Baker Motley (the first African American Woman to argue in front of the United States Supreme Court and to the Federal Bench), Lloyd Gaines (fought segregation in law schools in Missouri in Missouri ex. rel Gaines v. Canada), and Charles Hamilton Houston (the architect of the legal strategy to fighting Jim Crow laws and trained Thurgood Marshall—the first African American Supreme Court Justice). While these historical figures are worthy of celebration and acknowledgment, the commonality among them is that they spent and risked their lives dedicated to changing American culture and society for the better. Stated differently, they all worked tirelessly to create an equitable American society. And as I posted many of these names and their stories on LinkedIn, the common response from well-educated professional adults was that they were not aware of these names, their stories, and their contributions to our society.

As I think about why so many Americans are unaware of these contributions and how they have made our society better and more equitable, I can only conclude that, as a society, we have failed to be inclusive in the teaching of American history. Too often, we think of Black History as not a part of American History, despite these African American historical figures changing the very fabric of American society. The teaching and celebration of the impact of these contributions on us all are relegated to a single month because they remind many of the social ills of segregation, Jim Crow, and slavery. While it may be challenging for many in this nation to face the societal implications of our past, to build a more inclusive society, we have to face these realities and free the discussion of Black History and its impact on society from just these twenty-eight days during winter. To truly become an inclusive society, we must understand that Black History IS American History, which should be taught, discussed, acknowledged, and celebrated throughout the year.

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