History Buzz Special: Black History Month 2011

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

HISTORY BUZZ SPECIAL: BLACK HISTORY MONTH

http://www.flagstaff.az.gov/images/pages/N2172//black-history-month.jpg

IN FOCUS:

  • African American History Month — Library of CongressLOC
  • Black History Month and its significance: The election of Barack Obama into the United States’ Presidential Office was a monumentally historic event for African-Americans, Africans and the entire world.
    Some people don’t like to pull the ‘race card’ when talking about Obama becoming president of the United States, but in my opinion, that is something that cannot be overlooked. Some people also minimise the significance of Obama, a person of colour, making it into the White House by saying that he is not 100 percent black, but is instead bi-racial. ‘Whatever,’ is what I say to that; it is noteworthy that part of Obama’s family and ancestry can be traced to and still lives in Kenya. Anyone who is familiar with the painful history of slavery in the United States surely can appreciate how significant a historic event Obama’s election as 44th president of the United States of America is. When the conscious people in the US celebrate Black History Month this year, they will look to this most recent accomplishment of an African- American with great pride and reflect on what a long journey it has been for African-Americans.
    The month of February in the US is commemorated as Black History Month. During this month, African- Americans, who have helped change the world, are commemorated by people of all walks of life. Black History Month began as “Negro History Week,” which was created in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, a noted African- American historian, scholar, educator, and publisher. It became a month-long celebration in 1976. The month of February was chosen to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass (one of the foremost leaders of the abolitionist movement, which fought to end slavery within the US in the decades before the Civil War) and Abraham Lincoln (16th US president most remembered for his Emancipation Proclamation, which declared slaves free).
    During Black History Month, universities offer special lectures; television broadcasters air black-history related programming, people gather at fairs organised to celebrate Black History Month and artists, mostly reggae, perform to crowds of the Afro-centric thinker….
    So, why is Black History Month important and necessary? As a firm believer in the importance of history in the present, I offer that it is for that reason that Black History Month is important and necessary. In order to really have an appreciation for where one stands in the present, then one must look at the past….. – MMEGI
  • Clarence Page: Sadly, Black History Month still needed: “This library is not for coloreds.” That’s what Ron McNair, a 9-year-old black South Carolina kid, was told at his local public library in 1959, his older brother Carl McNair recalls….
    Flash forward. Ronald Ervin McNair is better known today for the tragedy that ended his life. He died when the space shuttle Challenger exploded 25 years ago on Jan. 28. In his hometown, Lake City, S.C., the renovated building that housed that library is being renamed after him.
    Appropriately, the observations came as Black History Month events began. That also means a return of arguments — some of them more polite than others — about whether we still need Black History Month at all, especially now that the nation has an African-American president.
    Yet, every time I begin to think we can relax special efforts to remember this nation’s grand racial epic of sorrow and triumph, I am jerked alert by events like some recent ones that show how easily history can be forgotten or twisted even by major newsmakers…. – The Detroit News, 2-13-11
  • Black History Month, it is time to get rid of this celebration: Martin Luther King Jr. was among these, ironically, as he dreamed of a day when people would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” If we’re teaching about black Americans, or white Americans, or Hispanic Americans, or Asian Americans, we’re doing the exact opposite of what the great reverend preached – we’re accentuating the differences between us, not erasing them.
    We tell children that they should not judge people by their color, then confuse them by insisting that they study a person because that person is black. Famous Amos was included in the assignment! Now, I love cookies as much as the next guy, but having kids read about Famous Amos simply because he was a successful black American is nothing short of ludicrous. Many of these same children have never heard of Gandhi, Churchill or even Ulysses S. Grant. And yet we’re teaching them about Famous Amos before we teach them about George C. Marshall. This is not only diversity on the cheap, but it’s bad educational policy, too…. – NY Daily News, 2-4-11
  • Books roundup: Black history: February is Black History Month, and a popular time for new books about African Americans. USA TODAY looks at four notable titles….
    Jessica B. Harris: High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey From Africa to America
    Clarence Lusane: The Black History of the White House
    Clarence B. Jones and Stuart Connelly: Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech That Transformed a Nation
    Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts: Harlem Is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black AmericaUSA Today, 2-17-11
  • Black History Month: 7 great books for teens: From gritty memoir to evocative fiction, these stories offer powerful lessons about race in America…. – CS Monitor, 2-7-11
  • Black History Month: How to inspire and teach Notable African-Americans offer ways to share the message behind Black History Month: We asked prominent African-Americans to recommend a book, musical composition, movie, play, painting or other work that will teach children of all races and ages lessons about black history. “Frankly, I am so tired of hearing (about) the same old music and about the same old books every February,” said author David Bradley, associate professor of creative writing at the University of Oregon. “Black History Month has gotten to be like Christmas — same old carols, same old cards. … There’s so much more to celebrate than we ever get around to celebrating, or even experiencing.”… – Chicago Tribune, 2-1-11
  • Black History Month: How has Obama changed it?: In that survey, Obama didn’t just make the top 10 of the more than 170 black leaders considered; he ranked second, bested only by King and beating black historical figures such as Harriet Tubman, W.E.B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall and Rosa Parks.
    The president’s ranking has set off a heated debate in the comment section of the Grio’s post on the results. And the effect Obama has on black history and Black History Month remains to be seen.
    It might well be the case that Obama’s presidency has allowed the United States to reexamine the history of African Americans under a new lens and with a stronger focus. But there’s also the risk of an Obama vacuum of sorts: The Obama presidency might take attention away from the sacrifices of countless African Americans since the country’s inception. Some even argue that a black man in the White House eliminates the need for us to celebrate Black History Month…. – WaPo, 2-1-11
  • Presidential Proclamation — National African American History Month A PROCLAMATION: In the centuries since African Americans first arrived on our shores, they have known the bitterness of slavery and oppression, the hope of progress, and the triumph of the American Dream. African American history is an essential thread of the American narrative that traces our Nation’s enduring struggle to perfect itself. Each February, we recognize African American History Month as a moment to reflect upon how far we have come as a Nation, and what challenges remain. This year’s theme, “The History of Black Economic Empowerment,” calls upon us to honor the African Americans who overcame injustice and inequality to achieve financial independence and the security of self empowerment that comes with it.
    Nearly 100 years after the Civil War, African Americans still faced daunting challenges and indignities. Widespread racial prejudice inhibited their opportunities, and institutional discrimination such as black codes and Jim Crow laws denied them full citizenship rights. Despite these seemingly impossible barriers, pioneering African Americans blazed trails for themselves and their children. They became skilled workers and professionals. They purchased land, and a new generation of black entrepreneurs founded banks, educational institutions, newspapers, hospitals, and businesses of all kinds.
    This month, we recognize the courage and tenacity of so many hard-working Americans whose legacies are woven into the fabric of our Nation. We are heirs to their extraordinary progress. Racial prejudice is no longer the steepest barrier to opportunity for most African Americans, yet substantial obstacles remain in the remnants of past discrimination. Structural inequalities — from disparities in education and health care to the vicious cycle of poverty — still pose enormous hurdles for black communities across America.
    Overcoming today’s challenges will require the same dedication and sense of urgency that enabled past generations of African Americans to rise above the injustices of their time. That is why my Administration is laying a new foundation for long-term economic growth that helps more than just a privileged few. We are working hard to give small businesses much-needed credit, to slash tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, and to give those same breaks to companies that create jobs here at home. We are also reinvesting in our schools and making college more affordable, because a world class education is our country’s best roadmap to prosperity.
    These initiatives will expand opportunities for African Americans, and for all Americans, but parents and community leaders must also be partners in this effort. We must push our children to reach for the full measure of their potential, just as the innovators who succeeded in previous generations pushed their children to achieve something greater. In the volumes of black history, much remains unwritten. Let us add our own chapter, full of progress and ambition, so that our children’s children will know that we, too, did our part to erase an unjust past and build a brighter future.
    NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim February 2010 as National African American History Month. I call upon public officials, educators, librarians, and all the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.
    IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.
    BARACK OBAMA — WH, 2-1-11
  • Presidential Proclamation–National African American History Month: The great abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass once told us, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” Progress in America has not come easily, but has resulted from the collective efforts of generations. For centuries, African American men and women have persevered to enrich our national life and bend the arc of history toward justice. From resolute Revolutionary War soldiers fighting for liberty to the hardworking students of today reaching for horizons their ancestors could only have imagined, African Americans have strengthened our Nation by leading reforms, overcoming obstacles, and breaking down barriers. During National African American History Month, we celebrate the vast contributions of African Americans to our Nation’s history and identity.
    This year’s theme, “African Americans and the Civil War,” invites us to reflect on 150 years since the start of the Civil War and on the patriots of a young country who fought for the promises of justice and equality laid out by our forbearers. In the Emancipation Proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln not only extended freedom to those still enslaved within rebellious areas, he also opened the door for African Americans to join the Union effort.
    Tens of thousands of African Americans enlisted in the United States Army and Navy, making extraordinary sacrifices to help unite a fractured country and free millions from slavery. These gallant soldiers, like those in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, served with distinction, braving both intolerance and the perils of war to inspire a Nation and expand the domain of freedom. Beyond the battlefield, black men and women also supported the war effort by serving as surgeons, nurses, chaplains, spies, and in other essential roles. These brave Americans gave their energy, their spirit, and sometimes their lives for the noble cause of liberty.
    Over the course of the next century, the United States struggled to deliver fundamental civil and human rights to African Americans, but African Americans would not let their dreams be denied. Though Jim Crow segregation slowed the onward march of history and expansion of the American dream, African Americans braved bigotry and violence to organize schools, churches, and neighborhood organizations. Bolstered by strong values of faith and community, black men and women have launched businesses, fueled scientific advances, served our Nation in the Armed Forces, sought public office, taught our children, and created groundbreaking works of art and entertainment. To perfect our Union and provide a better life for their children, tenacious civil rights pioneers have long demanded that America live up to its founding principles, and their efforts continue to inspire us.
    Though we inherit the extraordinary progress won by the tears and toil of our predecessors, we know barriers still remain on the road to equal opportunity. Knowledge is our strongest tool against injustice, and it is our responsibility to empower every child in America with a world-class education from cradle to career. We must continue to build on our Nation’s foundation of freedom and ensure equal opportunity, economic security, and civil rights for all Americans. After a historic recession has devastated many American families, and particularly African Americans, we must continue to create jobs, support our middle class, and strengthen pathways for families to climb out of poverty.
    During National African American History Month, we recognize the extraordinary achievements of African Americans and their essential role in shaping the story of America. In honor of their courage and contributions, let us resolve to carry forward together the promise of America for our children.
    NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim February 2011 as National African American History Month. I call upon public officials, educators, librarians, and all the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.
    IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.
    BARACK OBAMA — WH, 2-1-11
  • Biden, guests honor Black History Month: Progress has been made in civil rights, but the United States still has more to do, Vice President Joe Biden said during a celebration of Black History Month.
    Biden offered tribute to the more than 120 black elected officials and guests at the U.S. Naval Observatory Tuesday, saying, “The best way to celebrate history is to make it.”
    On the day that civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., received the Medal of Freedom, Biden spoke of the “halting” but ongoing fight for equality in the United States.
    “Sometimes the people most burdened in life have to add more burdens upon themselves so that others can have their burdens lifted from them,” the vice president said.
    He recalled two times when he stood on a train platform in Wilmington, Del. Once was in 1968 when he and Wilmington Mayor James Baker, an attendee, saw the city devastated by rioting following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Forty years later, Biden said, he stood on the same platform waiting to board a train that carried newly elected President Barack Obama, the first black commander in chief of the United States.
    Waiting for the train and recalling the riots, Biden said he remembered thinking, “We may have a lot more to do, but damn, we’ve come a long way.” – UPI, 2-16-11
  • Remarks by the President at “In Performance At The White House: The Motown Sound”: No one knows exactly when jazz began. Nobody knows who the first person was to sing a freedom song. But we know where Motown came from. We know it was born in the basement of a house on West Grand Boulevard in the Motor City — Detroit. (Applause.) And we know it started with a man named Berry Gordy, who is here with us tonight. Stand up, Berry. (Applause.)? ?
    Now, apparently Berry tried a lot of things before following his heart into music. A high school dropout, he failed as a record store owner, competed as an amateur boxer, finally took a job earning $85 a week on the assembly line at the local Lincoln-Mercury plant. And it was there, watching the bare metal frames transformed into gleaming automobiles, that Berry wondered why he couldn’t do the same thing with musicians, and help turn new talent into stars.? ?
    And before long, he quit his job at the plant, borrowed $800, and set up shop in a little house with a banner across the front that read “Hitsville, U.S.A.” His family thought he was delusional. (Laughter.) But as Berry said, “People thought the Wright Brothers had a stupid idea, so I say, ‘Bring on the stupid ideas.’”? ?
    As it turned out, Berry could recognize talent and potential better than anybody else in the business. It began with Smokey Robinson, who stopped by the Motown house with a group of friends calling themselves the Miracles. Then came one of Smokey’s neighbors -– a high school senior named Diana Ross, who started out working as a secretary. One of the Miracles brought along his little brother, who invited a 10-year-old blind kid named Stephen Hardaway Judkins to tag along. (Laughter.) And then there was a group called the Jackson Five, fresh from amateur night at the Apollo, that Gladys Knight told Berry he just had to see.? ?
    Pretty soon, the basement studio was turning out hits faster than Detroit was turning out cars. From 1961 to 1971, Motown produced 110 Top 10 hits from artists like Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Four Tops and The Supremes. In the process, Motown’s blend of tight lyrics, catchy melodies and deep soul began to blur the line between music that was considered either “black” or “white.” As Smokey Robinson said, “I recognized the bridges that were crossed, the racial problems and the barriers that we broke down with music. I recognized that because I lived it.”? ?
    Along the way, songs like “Dancing in the Streets” and “What’s Going On” became the soundtrack of the civil rights era. Black artists began soaring to the top of the pop charts for the first time. And at concerts in the South, Motown groups literally brought people together –- insisting that the ropes traditionally used to separate black and white audience members be taken down.? ?
    So, today, more than 50 years later, that’s the Motown legacy. Born at a time of so much struggle, so much strife, it taught us that what unites us will always be stronger than what divides us. And in the decades since, those catchy beats and simple chords have influenced generations of musicians, from Sheryl Crow to the Jonas Brothers. – WH, 2-24-11
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