Negro History Week started as an internal Negro Community Celebration, remembering the birthday and the difference between Frederick Douglass (my personal favorite Republican) and Lincoln (my least favorite Republican who edges out Ben Carson and Donald Trump). Douglass was part of a pre-Civil War meeting in which Lincoln suggested the solution to slavery was to ship all four million black people to Costa Rica. Douglass was one of the radical Republicans who felt the solution to slavery was full black citizenship, the vote, education, reparations, 40 acres and a mule, an end to white supremacy and the establishment of human equality.
Negro History Week was born as a response during the Harlem Renaissance, seven years after the Red Summer of 1919, an intense period of lynchings. Not that there’s a mellow period of lynchings. Sandra Bland died in a county where eight lynchings had taken place, so some of us are not convinced her arrest and subsequent death were a suicide — as a court of law found that Martin Luther King Jr. was shot by an Army sniper, not James Earl Ray.
I make a distinction regarding black urban legends because, unlike their generic counterparts, black urban legends are true — like the details of lynching, but white people don’t believe them. On the 50th anniversary, somebody actually believed I was making up Emmett Till. Mamie Till got death threats for wanting his body back to have a funeral in Chicago. His killers admitted doing it and were acquitted. People went to lynchings after Sunday church, brought children (held them up for a better view), brought picnic lunches, took pictures, sent the pictures through the mail (early 20th century social media). Wrote on said mail “Here’s a Coon We Barbecued,” certainly causing one to doubt whether “picnic” is from the French picanique, or the American picanig. And Trump wants us to worry about Muslims. The danger seems to be coming from people who look and speak like him.
Black History Month grew from our need to celebrate an excellence that was present but not shown in mainstream curriculum, which typically limited themselves to slavery and Martin Luther King Jr., astronauts (16), architects like DeNorval Unthank, doctors like Solomon Fuller, Charles Drew, Frantz Fanon, Mae Jemison and Jocelyn Elders (OK, Ben Carson, but I’d still rather have him operating on your brain than in the White House).
We can even aspire to the White House, but there is a limit to what we can achieve there. We have a black president, but also more black men and women under correctional control than were in slavery in 1850 — and a new Jim Crow when they get out. Unarmed black men, women and children are killed at predictable rates by policemen, security guards, armed vigilantes, gang members or random shooters. Where Black Lives and Black History Matters is: What was once done to us because of race, is now being done to us because of money. It might be of benefit studying how we overcame, or will overcome. I don’t think the Malheur occupiers learned anything from Martin Luther King Jr., the Black Panthers or MOVE. Or maybe they did.