Celebrating Black History Month

Feb. 25, 2014 @ 02:56 PM

Do we still need Black History Month? You can find thoughtful dialogue on both sides of the question. Does it do more harm than good to relegate a particular part of our population, be it women, blacks, Hispanics, etc., to a particular month? Or does it help to ensure a spotlight shines on parts of our history that have not received the same attention and understanding?

Filmmaker Shukree Hassan Tilghman tackled the question in his documentary “More Than a Month,” which aired earlier this month on PBS. Tilghman takes the position, rightly, that black history is certainly bigger than one month. As Tilghman explains, it’s part of the American story.
But a USA Today article Tuesday that explored the question through the eyes of African-American 20-somethings found overwhelming support for continuing to have Black History Month. Some saw it as a way to help peers of different races learn some of the same things that African-American kids have learned at home from their parents. Others saw it as an opportunity to delve more deeply into African-American history.
In Durham, we have had multiple events that have celebrated the month and helped bring history to life for young and old. Having the opportunity to celebrate people – well-known and unsung – helps increase understanding of how our history weaves together, and to honor those whom were not acknowledged at the time because of the times. Take, for example, Antioch Baptist Church’s African-American History Month celebration Sunday. Among those honored were Horace Calvin Hedgepeth, who began his career as a mechanic before becoming the first black bus driver in Durham; Clydie Pugh-Myers, who was the first black nurse at Duke Hospital; and Hortense K. McClinton, who was the first black faculty member at UNC Chapel Hill. These are not household names, but they should be. These are people who helped shape our local history and ensure a society with greater access for all.
Architect Patricia Harris spoke Sunday on issues of race at All Souls Church. She touched on her experiences within both white and black communities, as well as Trayvon Martin’s death. She spoke about discrimination being an ongoing discussion. “We must talk. Share you. Not your experiences, share you and all that’s within you.”
We need to do both – we need to be able to draw on both who people are and their experiences to learn. We need to make sure we are celebrating the accomplishments of the Horace Calvin Hedgepeths, Clydie Pugh-Myerses and Hortense K. McClintons of the world, and that our children know about them just as we do.
So do we still need Black History Month? You bet we do.