A renewed look at Black History
Three weeks ago, Greyston issued a challenge to our community to learn something new about Black history and the contributions of black people in the United States. We took the challenge and learned some new and interesting things! Here are the top five favorite facts that we learned this month:
1) Black History Month started off as “Negro History Week” in 1926. The movement was started by Carter G. Woodson, a noted scholar, educator and historian in coordination with the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. It became a month-long appreciation event in 1970, 20 years after Woodson died, when professors and The Black Student Association at Kent State University voted to observe it from January 2, 1970 to February 28, 1970. The movement spread from there and though it was often met with lukewarm enthusiasm, six years later President Gerald Ford recognized the month and urged all fellow Americans to do the same in 1976.
2) The United States is not the only country to honor the contributions of their black citizens, Canada, Britain, Ireland and The Netherlands all participate too although in the European countries Black History Month is in October.
3) Most of us associate the Civil Rights movement in America with the words of Martin Luther King Jr, Congressman John Lewis and Rosa Parks. But one lesser known contributor is Bayard Rustin. Rustin helped to organize the March on Washington, and worked closely with Dr King, even enlightening him on the ways of non-violence. After the civil rights legislation was passed, Rustin went on to head the A. Phillip Randolph Institute pushing for integration in white-only unions. As a gay man Rustin was encouraged to stay behind the scenes during the fight for civil rights as many felt the homophobia of the public would negatively affect The Movement. In the 1980s Rustin was a public voice in the early gay rights movement, but passed away before he could see that work finished.
4) Back in the early 1900s the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, became a booming black neighborhood and was frequently described as America’s “Black Wall Street”. In 1905 Booker T. Washington, a prominent educator, traveled to Tulsa to give praise to the community for their economic development. However in 1921 the “Tulsa race riots” laid waste to the entire neighborhood when angry white mobs raided the district killing approximately 150 civilians, burning and looting stores and homes, and taking to small privately owned aircrafts to drop firebombs on the community. Tens of thousands of people were displaced and hundreds more injured, but the incredible community was able to rebuild itself.
5) The Liberty Bell which once hung in the state house of Philadelphia, has many myths surrounding it, including that it was rung to sound the signing of the declaration of American independence from Britain (sadly not true). As a symbol the Bell is often used to imply the American values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; which is why it became a symbol for the abolitionist movement of the early 1800s thanks in major part to people like William Lloyd Garrison, a white ally and prominent journalist, suffragist, and social justice reformer who used this image in his weekly paper ‘The Liberator’.
What new things have you learned this Black History Month?
Images (from left): Dr. Carter G. Woodson, Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr with Bayard Rustin, the Liberty Bell inscribed “Proclaim liberty to ALL the inhabitants!”