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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Black History Month is for all of us

It's February again — 28 days of Black History Month.

Black History Month started when historian and journalist Carter G. Woodson sponsored a national Negro History Week in February 1926 to coincide with Abraham Lincoln's and Frederick Douglass' birthdays. In 1976 the week was extended to a month, albeit the shortest of the year. Every year media outlets, schools, cultural institutions and some municipalities honor Black History Month (sometimes known as African Descent History Month) through token images of some of the most well-known historical figures of African descent.

Most churches I know that celebrate Black History Month in any way are made up of predominantly African-American members. Some non-African descent congregations avoid such celebrations because they don't want to appear fake — suddenly throwing in gospel hymns or spirituals or kente cloth just because it's February. Others simply assume that Black History Month is for someone else or that God loves all people and we shouldn't single out one race or group. Unfortunately, with this mindset we usually end up highlighting the history of the white dominant culture instead of broadening our cultural horizons.

I wish we didn't need Black History Month. I wish black history was addressed as thoroughly throughout the rest of the year as it is in February. I wish we didn't even have to identify it as black history because it's more — it's our shared history. But racism and discrimination being what they are, we still need an intentional prompt to remind us to pay attention to this part of often overlooked history. Sure we learn about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Harriet Tubman. But what about Stokely Carmichael, Mae Jemison or Mary McLeod Bethune? Or in the Lutheran church, what about Jehu Jones? Have you heard of the Alpha Synod? Who is Nelson Trout? (For clues, check the "Witnesses to the Faith" section in the This Far By Faith hymnal.)

This February, during Black History Month, take time to honor the history of people of African descent. Take a class or listen to a lecture on black history. Read about black Lutheran history in This Far By Faith. Do an online search for an African-American inventor whom you don't know much about. "Like" the Facebook page of the NAACP or the ELCA African Descent Lutheran Association. Watch a movie or a play that teaches about important events in black history. Attend a museum exhibit that highlights the accomplishments of African-Americans. Do something to stretch your knowledge and awareness of black history. You won't regret it. 


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