As I watched I began to think about the idea of Black History Month, and black history in general in our country. While the plight of many immigrants to this country was a struggle to say the least (for example, the Irish immigrants who were conscripted into the Civil War literally as they disembarked from their boats or the Japanese immigrants who were interned at prison camps simply for being of Japanese descent) there is no question that the uniquely brutal history of blacks in America is one of the greatest stains on the history of this country.
For almost two hundred years, blacks in America were treated as lesser citizens, being denied basic rights that were allowed to whites and to other minorities. Even when the civil war ended and slavery was abolished, blacks in the south remained in bondage of poverty and oppressions for a century, until the civil rights movement began to shed light on the extreme inequality and discrimination that black Americans were facing, especially in southern states. Courageous leaders fought to bring attention to the mistreatment of southern blacks.
The recent movie Selma does an amazing job of portraying the experience of the civil rights; the movie retells the events surrounding the now famous march from Selma, Alabama to the state capitol, Montgomery Alabama. This event was just one, of so many, that led to changes in the law, but they did not come without a great cost. Many white individuals and untold numbers of black individuals were beaten, tortured and even killed for simply participating in these activities.
Marches, sit-ins, voter registration drives, and many other activities were considered so threatening, that individuals who participated in these activities were targeted for hate crimes.
Movies like Glory and Selma are so important to help tell the story of the past. Black History month enables all of us to spend some time reflecting on the experiences of black Americans; time to look at the mistakes of the past, the gains we have made, the incredible people who helped us along the way, and to think about the areas we still need to improve.
Black history is all of our history – from famous civil rights martyrs like Dr. King to lesser know martyrs, who also gave their life to the cause of equality and justice for all men and women regardless of race.
Many people believe that this kind of racism and discrimination are a thing of the past. It would be wonderful if that were actually true, but unfortunately racism is still present and Black History Month is as important as ever, to shed a light on the past experiences of not only black Americans, but all Americans.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. -George Santayana