Black History Month and the audacity to achieve
1/27/2022, 6 p.m.
Black History Month.
Dare we say those three words alone or in a sentence?
Do we have permission, the audacity, the nerve to celebrate their meaning as conceived by Carter G. Woodson and others who believed that the achievements and accomplishments of Black Americans warrant special recognition every February?
Or, in saying those words, do we risk mention of this celebratory month being stripped from school textbooks, theaters, museums, libraries, parks, TV screens, radio and (gasp!) social media?
The notion of Black History Month, which was founded 50 years after the end of slavery and became more fully recognized in the mid-1970s after President Gerald Ford deemed it so, becoming extinct may appear ludicrous. But recent steps by newly elected Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who campaigned on the promise that he would ban the teaching of “Critical Race Theory” in public schools, could render mute the names of Black Americans who have risen and succeeded in this country in spite of the racist atrocities we have endured during and after a 246-year period of slavery.
As stated in this space last week, Gov. Youngkin, lauded as someone who can absorb tons of information and run with it, knows that CRT, a graduate-level course, is not taught in schools. Yet, while appearing on a conservative radio talk show this week, Gov. Youngkin, a corporate executive millionaire before he was elected to lead the Commonwealth (he still has the millions), revealed that his administration has established a “helpline” for parents to email instances of what they perceive as “divisive practices” being taught (sic CRT). He then gave an example of a game of “Privilege Bingo” assigned to a group of students in Fairfax County that singled out white people, males or people in the military as privileged. Perhaps the governor should be more concerned about why students are playing bingo on the public’s dime rather than solving math problems, learning a second language or improving their reading.
Oh. We get it. Reading is fundamental and if one can read, one will learn that Critical Race Theory should be taught to help us deal with the past decade’s incessant blows to the psyches and spirits of African Americans everywhere.
Police brutality, racial injustice, and inequities in employment, health and housing have brought us to what Randall Robinson so eloquently described in “The Reckoning,” his 2002 book that examines crime, inner-city poverty and the rise of the corporate-run prisons that are largely populated by blacks and Hispanics. Subtitled “What Blacks Owe to Each Other,” the Richmond-born Robinson rallies Black Americans to speak out and reach back to ensure that poor Black people get their chance to have the American Dream.
So here we are, 20 years after Robinson released his third book and a few days shy of Black History Month. Sure, this very well could be a feel-good editorial or opinion piece lauding the accomplishments of Black people who helped pave the way and open doors for fellow Black people. We know their names because Richmond and the Commonwealth of Virginia are proud of such historic and heroic figures who will always be recognized for their work in lifting the masses.
Say their names, say their names.
In addition to Carter G. Woodson, born 10 years after the end of slavery in New Canton, Va., there is Maggie L. Walker, John Mitchell, John Jasper, Virginia Randolph, L. Douglas Wilder, Samuel Tucker, Spottswood W. Robinson III, William Ferguson Reid, Henry L. Marsh and Dorothy Height.
We’d be remiss to not mention entertainers and musicians such as Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Ella Fitzgerald, Lonnie Liston Smith and Jerome Brailey.
Pioneering editor and publisher of the Richmond Free Press Raymond Boone and his wife, Jean Boone the newspaper’s current publisher. Willie Lanier, Robert “Bobby” Dandridge, B.H. Hester, Samuel H. Clark, John Charles Thomas, and Louise Lucas.
The dream is far from over and Black History Month is here to stay, thank you.
Despite Gov. Youngkin’s efforts, we will always celebrate our achievements, especially since there was little for Black people to celebrate in 1915 when Black History Month was created. Barely free after centuries of slavery, many of the rights that Black Americans achieved post Reconstruction were quickly stripped from them and replaced by harsh Jim Crow laws that remain today. Think Voting. Quality Education. Housing. Jobs.
What then, back then, was to be celebrated you may ask?
The Black Family, perhaps, more than anything. Grandparents born of that era who sometimes raised up to 15 children in small dwellings—children who grew up to be successful and raise their own children in the church and in the community. Seeking any and all education to be found, often with the help of women such as Virginia Randolph or men like Carter G. Woodson.
Can’t you just hear Barack Obama singing “Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound”?
Despite the continuing hardships experienced by many Black people and people of color, technology and free online resources, along with a growing urgency to tell our own stories, have provided an extensive list of Blacks scholars, writers, educators, artists, musicians, theologians and others in which to find inspiration.
Black men and women are being tapped to lead major media, finance and education organizations. Black men and women increasingly are becoming their own bosses and hiring folks who look like them. Record numbers of black women are seeking political office, thanks to organizations such as Higher Heights, which has their backs. STEM and hemlines are increasingly in sync.
And while black men and women long have dominated sports and athletics, the real reckoning is about to go down if billionaire Robert Smith is successful in purchasing the Denver Broncos, a team located in the city where he grew up and had the audacity to dream.
In this week’s Free Press you will find listings of several Black History Month programs.
If you can’t get out and attend any of these events, no worries. Find something on public radio, click on an audiobook, or join a dynamic social media group or webinar to expand your knowledge.
But if you do attend some of the in-person sessions listed, please wear a mask. And not the kind espoused by the late, great poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.