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  • Hope on Union

The Importance of Celebrating Black History Month

We all know that February is Black History Month, but most of us do not know how it became a part of our history. While every child can recite the history of the Revolutionary War, even most African American children, much fewer children of other colors, do not know the background story of Black History Month.

It all began with Mr. Carter G. Woodson and his belief that Black people should know their past to participate intelligently in society. While obtaining his master’s degree from the University of Chicago and Ph.D. from Harvard, he observed the intentional misinterpretation of people of color in all aspects of society, especially in the study of U.S. history.

In 1915, Woodson and Mr. Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASALAH), an organization dedicated to promoting the proper study of Black history as a celebration of rights and significant accomplishments of African Americans. In 1926, ASALAH launched “Negro History Week” and chose to have it in February to coincide with the birthdays of Fredrick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, two key figures in Black liberation.

In the 1960’s universities eventually recognized that there was much more to teach about Black history than just two figures and pushed for the entire month of February to be Black History Month. In 1976, 50 years after the Negro History Week began, and in conjunction with the bi-centennial of U.S. freedom from Great Britain, President Ford declared February as the Black History Month.

Even though Black History Month began during my high school years, my school district refused to recognize Black History Month. My school district did not celebrate it and did not include any contributions of African Americans in U.S. history in its curriculum. The main excuse was that it did not have any African Americans in their schools - which was true. However, their decision also denied white children from learning the true history of the U.S., and the miseducation of white children has resulted in racist ideologies of “white power” among my friends.

The Black influence in every aspect of the U.S. culture is undeniable, but it is especially visible in music and religion. Jazz, rock & roll, funk, hip hop, R & B, and gospel are all founded on the spirituals born out of African culture, the pain of slavery, and urban life. The black culture is so embedded in the U.S. music culture that it is impossible to find “white” influence in it.

The black contribution is even more significant in the U.S. religion. If the black worship liturgy was trademarked, every church would have to pay loyalty to the African American community each time we worshiped. The classical choirs all but disappeared, and the traditional liturgy is being abandoned as boring and irrelevant. People of all ages are turning to more “lively” and “energetic” worship services that copies from the African American worship experience.

The African American worship liturgy began on the riverbanks when the enslaved people gathered to lament their plight, encourage one another, and plead to God for freedom. They sang a cappella, and everyone participated. Since many could not read, the leader called, and people responded. Their worship was highly energetic because their pains were so great. Their prayers were loud because their need was urgent. Their worship was honest and genuine. The community gave one another freedom to worship and allowed each other the space to express their pain and joy. They worshipped and celebrated one another all day, at least for the day they were free from the reminders of their suffering.

Their white captors watched in envy as they lamented their boring worship services and how hard the pews were. They suffered through their worship service because it was cultural but not personal. They endured worship so others could see their religiosity. Modern ethos on worship and liturgy are all attempting to recreate what the enslaved community created for itself.

During this Black History Month, let us learn from their creativity and courage to worship God with honesty so we too may find our genuine faith that will carry us through modern times.

Pastor Sunny

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