Excerpted from http://blogcritics.org by Victor Lana
Published February 03, 2006
"Why do we have a Black History Month? What about Polish history? Danish history? Greek history?"
The answer, gentle readers, is very obvious. None of these other nationalities were ever brought to this country as slaves. After being captured in their native Africa, blacks were chained in the bottom of boats and brought here as a commodity. They were bought and sold with no regard for separating them from families or friends. These people were then forced into arduous service, unmercifully treated, and made to feel as if they were not any better than the master's horse or plow. Their children were not educated, for the masters knew this would lead to revolt, and oftentimes were purposely taken away from their parents and sold as a way to break the spirit.
When one thinks of the suffering and oppression of black people who were slaves, it is even more amazing that rising out of that miasma there were so many inspirational stories, so much to be thankful for, and more than enough material for many more than one history month. Yes, all races and people have histories, but it is essential that every American study and understand black history simply because slavery was such an ugly part of our collective history. We also must recognize these resilient people who rose out of the ashes of slavery to shine a light on our culture and make the world a better place.
The many other races and cultures who flowed into our land came of their own volition. Yes, some may have been fleeing dire circumstances at home, but they sought a better life elsewhere and decided to come to America. Many may have been packed on ships in terrible conditions (as I've heard told on the Italian side of my family), but my great grandfather didn't have chains around his arms and legs. He got off the boat a free man, was able to go to work in his trade of masonry, and made a wonderful life for himself and eventually his family. This was the American dream and it still beckons immigrants from all over the world, but blacks were not part of this equation of liberty and freedom that others were allowed to embrace.
I think all parents should discuss their heritage with their children, but it is imperative to also focus on people different than ourselves. The truth is that black history was hardly recognized let alone taught in a serious manner. Establishing February as Black History Month was a way to get school children to learn about the amazing black Americans who have done so much for their country and its culture: George Washington Carver, Fredrick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Dred Scott, Dr. Charles Drew, Louis Armstrong, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Bunche, Thurgood Marshall, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Sidney Poitier, Paul Robeson, Rosa Parks, Arthur Ashe, Henry (Hank) Aaron, and so many, many more.
Coretta Scott King passed away on the last day of January, a month which includes the holiday to honor her slain husband. He was a leader, a husband, a father, a preacher, and most notably a freedom fighter. Now, in her memory, during this Black History Month, we ought to make certain that her husband's most famous word's (free at last) reverberate from the mountaintops of this great land to both shining seas. This is why we celebrate black history, a necessary and compelling reminder that freedom is not free; black Americans had to fight and struggle to attain it in this country. That is the most salient reason to vigorously celebrate this month every year.
Victor Lana has published numerous stories and articles in literary magazines and online, including his favorite haunt here at Blogcritics. His novels A Death in Prague (2002) and Move (2003) and his new book The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories are available at online bookstores.