Black History is All of Our History
After 2020, Black History Month is more important than ever.
It has always been important. But just as our awareness of racism is heightened after the events of last year, attention to Black History should be heightened as a crucial ingredient in building the beloved community about which Dr. King spoke.
Christians should bring two crucial ideas to the awareness of Black History. First, we know that God is a God of history who is continually working out his purposes. The Bible is a recounting of four thousand years of God’s activities, and we study God’s saving actions to better discern what that same God is doing today. We pay attention to the power of evil and how a loving God has rescued his people over and over again.
Secondly, we know that in Christ there is a new creation and that we are all one in the Lord. Galatians 3:28 makes it clear: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” The history of one group of people should matter to everyone. This is especially true when one race has suffered slavery, discrimination, lynching and oppression at the hands of the dominant group.
Too many people live without paying attention to the past. In reality, the past is not actually past. We live in societies that have been structured by our foremothers and forefathers for both good and evil. I see this in some cities where the shape of the streets is determined by trails originally made by native Americans. We live in homes designed by people who came before us. We have governments whose constitutions were developed in the past and which shape our elections today.
Similarly, the evils inflicted on African Americans as well as the positive contributions of African Americans affect us now. On the negative side, memories of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment (an evil research program that would not be repeated today) cause some to mistrust medical science even in a pandemic. In the same way, housing segregation and Jim Crow laws limited opportunities for Black people that are still having an impact long after they were removed from the law books. George Floyd’s murder, along with others, resonates because some Black persons have been pulled over for no reason by police officers. Their offenses were to drive in predominantly white neighborhoods.
On the positive side, Black History also tell stories of how some African Americans have made great contributions to American culture. We should celebrate heroes and heroines so that we understand how all parts of the American people achieved success and contributed to the common good. For example, Dr. Charles R. Drew, an African American surgeon and medical researcher was instrumental in developing blood mobiles and blood banks. When I give blood and my local blood center, I am building on his accomplishments. He was the first director of the American Red Cross Blood Bank, through which America sent large quantities of plasma to support British soldiers during World War II. We are more likely to know the names of African American civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman and John Lewis. We also recognize sports and entertainment figures because we spend more time watching them. But we should pay attention to Black History in all its aspects.
We take too many things for granted and move through our lives too often with a surface mentality. That is why Bible study, historical study and engaging in cross-racial and cross-cultural learning experiences is a way of faithfully following a God who gave his only Son that the entire world might be saved. That means everybody. Black History is all our history.
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Scott J. Jones