African-American Heritage Month just concluded, and as I reflect on the event some thoughts have come to mind.
Why do we celebrate Black History Month is a question that you might get from younger Airmen and NCOs. As a leader I thought I would give you at least my perspective on the value of a black history month.
My perspective comes from the fact that I was a black American Airman on active duty for more than 26 years. In addition Black History Month was adopted by the military early in my military career.
Many people do not know that Black History Week started in 1926 by Dr. Carter Woodson, a black historian, as a celebration of black Americans, who at that time were called Negros. It was for educating them about their past history so that Negro’s could feel a sense of pride over their contribution to the country. In 1976 the week was extended to a month as we began to realize that black history was really an American story and needed to be shared with all America.
Many people do not know about these contributions:
1770 – Crispus Attucks, a Negro sailor, became the first man to die at the Boston Massacre. Seven men are killed including Attucks. This killing of Americans by the British in the streets of Boston served to ignite the Revolutionary War.
5,000 blacks will serve in Gen. George Washington’s Army against the British during the Revolutionary War.
1812 – The British invade America in the War of 1812. During the battle of New Orleans, Gen. Andrew Jackson reported that the city would have been lost had it not been for the help of black soldiers.
1840s – Blacks served and fought in the Mexican-American War.
Civil War – 180,000 blacks served in the Civil War (10 percent of the union Army was black), 40,000 died in uniform.
1866 to 1900s – Blacks served on the plains and in the southwest as “Buffalo Soldiers, who brought law and order to the west.
World War I – The 92nd and 93rd infantry divisions and the Harlem Hell Fighters (369th Infantry) served oversea in France and fought with the French. More than 370,000 blacks wore the uniform during the war.
World War II – The Army 761st Tank Battalion (Black Panthers) of Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army and The Red Ball Express, the supply line on wheels in Europe was made up primarily of black soldiers. The Navy Golden 13 (only 13 naval officers were the first blacks selected to serve as officers), the Mumford Port Marines had 19,000 black members, and the Army Air Corp had 14,000 Tuskegee Airmen. More than 1 million blacks served with honor during the war.
Executive Order 9981 by President Harry Truman integrated the military in July 1948. Black men and women begin serving in integrated units. They served in Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Gulf War II and the Global War on Terror. All served with excellence.
So an important question to ask is in the chronology of events just listed. How many events did you no know about? If some of these events are new, you can see why history, any history is important. I have not mentioned contributions in the areas of art, music, literature, sports, medicine, culture, science or aviation. But believe me contributions from blacks in those areas are just as rich.
So why have a black history month? I recently saw a title of an article that was written in humor to address Black History month. It read, “The celebration of white history year continues after a monthlong break for Black History Month.”
The point is that black history is still not written in our current American history books. If we want to learn about it, it must be as a separate event until the history is integrated into the bigger frame work of our entire American history. Because, truth be told, black history is not black history. It is American history.
What blacks want is for all people to understand the contributions they have to this country. They want people to empathize — stand in their shoes of the past. This will help others to understand that they as a people were not on the same equal footing. Then we can appreciate contributions made by all Americans. When you can look into a people’s past and understand what happened to them on the way to building America, you can understand their perspective, and understand where they are coming from. At the end of the day when you can understand the contributions made by black Americans in building this country, you can and will appreciate those contributions. That builds a better America.
We need to do better to incorporate our histories into one tapestry that tell the true story of the U.S. Then quite honestly there will not be a need for Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Asian-Pacific History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Native American Month, etc. Those months will not be needed any longer because we will have truly arrived at complete American history year round.
I hope one day that we as a people decide it is better to celebrate our lineage — African, Irish, Polish, Italian, etc., in private. And celebrate our heritage simply being an American in public.