Black History is American History

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The following is a guest post by Curtis Woods, Associate Executive Director for Convention Relations.

For years I have heard: Black history is American history. Black History Month invites all Americans to sit around the historical campfire and be warmed by the flames of African American achievement. When these flames are properly understood in light of God’s providence and the gospel, it creates persevering joy, not malice, in the hearts of Christians.

On February 11, I had the privilege of talking to a few students in the Heritage Room of Simmons College in Louisville. I marveled at their passion for history! They explained how Simmons’ founders courageously fought against the tide of cultural apathy regarding formally educating African Americans. Portraits of African American high achievement bedecked the walls and ushered me back to my own undergraduate years at two historically black institutions, Philander Smith College and the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff.

In the spirit of African American historian Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), the students carefully crafted their words to show the contemporary implications for the past events. They, in the words of Michael A.G. Haykin, “laid hold of a usable past.” Truthfully, when I entered the room, my knowledge of Simmons College was extremely limited. Upon my departure, however, a spark of intellectual curiosity was lit in my heart!

Woodson, author of the perennial best-seller The Mis-Education of the Negro, founded the Association of Negro Life and History for the purpose of protecting Americans from historical amnesia with respect to Black history. A consummate scholar and educator, Woodson also created and served as editor of the Journal of Negro History and the Negro History Bulletin. These two resources are readily available at most university and seminary libraries, including the flagship seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention.

In 1926, Woodson established an annual Negro History Week (now Black History Month), seven days in February devoted to the celebration of black history and culture. He selected February to honor the birthdays of two cultural change-agents, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Douglass, who many regard as one of the greatest Christian intellectuals in American history, finds his name virtually unknown amongst most evangelical Christians then and now. Woodson makes a valid point, saying, “No one can be thoroughly educated until he learns as much about the Negro as he knows about other people.” He believed historical ignorance kills contemporary relationships. Good counsel.

This month we have opportunity to expand our horizons concerning the African American experience because Black History is American History. Might our learning deepen our appreciation for one another and our commitment to take the gospel to the races, tongues, and tribes in America and beyond. 

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