Black history is American history, yet not so long ago the history of non-European Americans was scarce in textbooks.
It’s too late to wonder why the important contributions of African, Chinese and Hispanic populations were not originally highlighted in traditional textbooks. Maybe in the case of black history, it’s because it was an oral history — it was illegal for black Americans to learn to read or write, often under penalty of death.
Whatever the reason, due to the underrepresentation of African American history, Black History Month began in 1926 with the founding of Negro History Week in February by historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.
Beginning in the 1970s, presidents have issued annual national decrees proclaiming the month’s theme.
Since the observation began, The United States’ history – the history of ALL Americans – has become more inclusive and rich with personalities, tradition and culture.
Locally, Johnson County history has grown to acknowledge Merriam’s South Park School and Corinthian Nutter, whose walkout and consequent lawsuit predated the landmark Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education desegregation case by several years.
There is also Jeremiah McCanse, who was a black businessman and school board member in the Spring Hill School District at the turn of the century. Also, the Exodusters, 9th US Calvary and Nick Chiles, black Topeka newspaper owner who bailed temperance movement leader Carrie Nation out of jail.
And who knew that Kansas was once home to 80 African American newspapers, including three papers in Fort Scott as well as Leavenworth and Lawrence?
By acknowledging an inclusive history, we are all richer.
It’s unfortunate that the term “black history month” is often divisive. And it’s unfortunate that minority history was often underrepresented.
We’re hopeful that as inclusive education and acknowledgement continues, one day “Black History Month” will no longer be needed.
That’s when America will truly be the “Great Melting Pot” it’s proclaimed to be.