Beyond Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevards

By LaToya Brown 2-23-2010

100223-carter-g-woodsonWe should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice. - Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950)

Dr. Carter G. Woodson is known as the "Father of Black History" and nationally, February is recognized as Black History Month. Black History Month developed out of what was originally Negro History Week, which began in 1926. It was not until 1976 that the week became a month-long commemoration. Dr. Woodson's vision was to one day witness the history of America include the lives and influences of Black Americans. As we acknowledge the 34th anniversary of Black History Month, let us not forget why the commemoration was created. Let us continue to move toward a time when all those who contributed to the foundation of this country and world will not be seen as merely bystanders, but as contributors and influential people.

Black History Month brings opportunities to attend lectures, discussions, exhibits, films, and many other community events. This February, I have made it a priority to visit museums, attend lectures, and read about the lives of those "sung and unsung heroes" of history. Recently, I was privileged to attend an event at the National Museum of American History. The event was a Youth Town Hall in honor of the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Greensboro Four's Feb. 1, 1960, sit-in. At the town hall, the three surviving members -- Joe McNeil, Jibreel Khazan, and Franklin McCain (David Richmond passed away December 7, 1990) -- told their stories, took questions from the audience, and all the while allowed the students to engage with and be inspired by their lives. It was incredible to be in the presence of living members of history, and I will not forget the impact that hearing their stories has had on my understanding of effecting change.

Today, I have come to believe it is time to move on from only recognizing historical figures through naming places, streets, etc. in honor of them; please don't misunderstand what I am saying -- it is great to do that, but it must not stop there. On one hand, some might say that the act of naming things after someone happens precisely because there is an understanding of that person's life. I would point out that there are many influential people that were only given credit for their contribution to the world posthumously, because while they were living they were seen as a threat to the status quo. We must seek to know and understand who they were (or in some cases are), their lives, and how their legacies have contributed to where we are as a nation and world today. The dedication of a month should not be the only time for history to include truth; truth should be present all year long, month after month.

For those who live in the District, below I have included just a few museums and informative Web sites to check out for upcoming Black History Month events. For those outside of the District, I encourage you to check out the events going on where you live. Please feel free to comment with information on any upcoming events or places to visit.

The African American Civil War Memorial and Museum
The Anacostia Community Museum
The Fredrick Douglass House
The Library of Congress
The National Museum of American History
The National Museum of the American Indian

How will you expand your knowledge of history this month and beyond?

portrait-latoya-lynn-brownLaToya Lynn Brown is the executive assistant for Sojourners.

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