When Dr. Carter G. Woodson created “National Negro Week” in February, 1926, my oldest uncle was a newly conceived embryo. Louis Nicholson would emerge into the world in October of that year, born into a society in which African Americans were a mere six decades into freedom from 264 years of enslavement. “Jim Crow” was the law of the land. Black people were being segregated, terrorized, and lynched—even in his hometown of Chicago.
Woodson chose February as the celebration date for “Negro History Week” because it coincided with the birthdays of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and “The Great Emancipator” Abraham Lincoln. In 1858, Lincoln delivered a speech in Chicago that said: “Let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man—this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position…Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal.”
In 1972, Dr. Woodson’s child was renamed “Black History Week.” In 1976, it grew to adolescence as “Black History Month.” That was the year Uncle Louis was the father of six who were adults like me. I was the twenty-five-year-old mother of a seven year old child of my own.
My Uncle Louie once told me that “History is HIS-story” because the victor writes the books. That could not be more evident as we witness America collapsing under the weight of ignorance and fear—fueled by a “book” of Twitter rants.
We are living in perilous times, indeed, but must remember that WE write history every day. ALL of us. Let’s stop allowing the victor to control the narrative with HIS-story and start writing something new. Let’s write a story that emerges from hearts and minds unwilling to let the evils of the past be the bane of the future.
In Douglass’ words: “A battle lost or won is easily described, understood, and appreciated, but the moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation, to appreciate it.”
This year, my family will commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Uncle Louis’ passing. I am now the grandmother of two who have no concept (yet) of the history I inherited. It is for them that I am on a quest to build a new narrative in which they are included, not just during one month of the year, but every day of their lives.
The story I would like to write is one where people are not “colorblind” but “color conscious”—seeing EVERYONE for the beauty and value they represent. One where ALL members of society are respected and treated as EQUAL, with “inalienable rights” as championed by the US Constitution.
I am proud to see people marching in the streets TODAY to make that history possible.
About the Author
Sharon Leslie Morgan is a nationally recognized pioneer in multicultural marketing, a founder of the National Black Public Relations Society, and co-author of Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade. An avid genealogist, she blogs extensively, leads workshops on African American family history, and is the webmaster for OurBlackAncestry.com.