Five Reasons To Celebrate Black History Month

Jemar Tisby, co-founder of the Reformed African American Network, makes a case for the relevance and importance of Black History Month.

A Quartet of Black History Icons (from left to right): Thurgood Marshall, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Nelson Mandela (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock.com)

February 1st marks the beginning of Black History Month.  Each year U.S. residents set aside a few weeks to focus their historical hindsight on the particular contributions that people of African descent have made to this country.  While not everyone agrees Black History Month is a good thing, here are several reasons why I think it’s appropriate to celebrate this occasion.

The History of Black History Month

First, let’s briefly recount the advent of Black History Month.  Also called African American History Month, this event originally began as Negro History Week in 1926. It took place during the second week of February because it coincided with the birthdates of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.  Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, is credited with the creation of Negro History Week.

In 1976, the bicentennial of the United States, President Gerald R. Ford expanded the week into a full month.  He said the country needed to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Objections to Black History Month

Black History Month has been the subject of criticism from both Blacks and people of other races.  Some argue that it is unjust and unfair to devote an entire month to a single people group.  Others contend that we should celebrate Black history throughout the entire year.  Setting aside only one month, they say, gives people license to neglect this past for the remaining eleven months.

Despite the objections, though, I believe some good can come from devoting a season to remembering a people who have made priceless deposits into the account of our nation’s history.  Here are five reasons why we should celebrate Black History Month.

1. Celebrating Black History Months Honors the Historic Leaders of the Black Community

I have the privilege of living in Jackson, Mississippi which is the site of many significant events in Black History.  Just the other day I heard Myrlie Evers, the wife of slain Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers, speak at the Governor’s Prayer Luncheon.  It’s common to see James Meredith, the first African American student at Ole Miss, in local churches or at community events.

Heroes like these and many more deserve honor for the sacrifice and suffering they endured for the sake of racial equality.  Celebrating Black History Month allows us to pause and remember their stories so that we can commemorate their achievements.

2. Celebrating Black History Month Helps Us to Be Better Stewards of the Privileges We’ve Gained 

Several years spent teaching middle school students impaled me with the reality that if we don’t tell the old, old stories the next generation, and we ourselves, will forget them.  It pained me to have to explain the significance of the Harlem Renaissance and the Tuskegee Airmen to children who had never learned of such events and the men and women who took part in them.

To what would surely be the lament of many historic African American leaders, my students and so many others (including me) take for granted the rights that many people before them sweated, bled, and died to secure.   Apart from an awareness of the past we can never appreciate the blessings we enjoy in the present.

3. Celebrating Black History Month Provides an Opportunity to Highlight the Best of Black History & Culture 

All too often only the most negative aspects of African American culture and communities get highlighted.  We hear about the poverty rates, incarceration rates, and high school drop out rates.  We are inundated with images of unruly athletes and raunchy reality TV stars as paradigms of success for Black people.  And we are daily subject to unfair stereotypes and assumptions from a culture that is, in some aspects, still learning to accept us.

Black History Month provides the chance to focus on different aspects of our narrative as African Americans.  We can applaud Madam C.J. Walker as the first self-made female millionaire in the U.S.  We can let our eyes flit across the verses of poetry Phyllis Wheatley, the first African American poet and first African American female to publish a book.  And we can groove to soulful jazz and somber blues music composed by the likes of Miles Davis and Robert Johnson.  Black History Month spurs us to seek out and lift up the best in African American accomplishments.

4. Celebrating Black History Month Creates Awareness for All People

I recall my 8th grade history textbook where little more than a page was devoted to the Civil Rights Movement.  I remember my shock as a Christian to learn about the formation of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church because in all my years in churches and Christian schools no one had ever mentioned it.

Unfortunately it seems that, apart from intentional effort, Black history is often lost in the mists of time.  When we observe Black History Month we give citizens of all races the opportunity to learn about a past and a people of which they may have little awareness.

5. Celebrating Black History Month Reminds Us All that Black History Is Our History 

It pains me to see people overlooking Black History Month because Black history—just like Latino, Asian, European, and Native American history—belongs to all of us. Black and White, men and women, young and old.  The impact African Americans have made on this country is part of our collective consciousness.  Contemplating Black history draws people of every race into the grand and diverse story of this nation.

Why Christians Should Celebrate Black History Month

As a believer, I see racial and ethnic diversity as an expression of God’s manifold beauty.  No single race or its culture can comprehensively display the infinite glory of God’s image, so He gave us our differences to help us appreciate His splendor from various perspectives.

God’s common and special grace even work themselves out in the providential movement of a particular race’s culture and history.  We can look back on the brightest and darkest moments of our past and see God at work.  He’s weaving an intricate tapestry of events that climaxes in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And one day Christ will return. On that day we will all look back at the history–not just of a single race but of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue–and see that our Creator had a plan all along.  He is writing a story that points to His glory, and in the new creation His people won’t have a month set aside to remember His greatness. We’ll have all eternity.

About the author, Jemar Tisby

Jemar Tisby is a co-founder of the Reformed African American Network. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Notre Dame and is now pursuing a Masters of Divinity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson. He currently works in the Admissions of Office of RTS and interns with Redeemer Church P.C.A. in Jackson, MS. Upon completion of his degree, Jemar seeks to become a full-time ordained pastor. He and his wife Janee’ have a two year old son, Jack. Follow him on Twitter at @jemartisby.
  1. As a believer and American who by God’s choosing grew up in South Texas.
    I’m flat out angry with you. 1st you have miss used the word race multiple time and in so many way I actually cried. The centrality of Christ will seperate the goats from the sheep! In Him alone can I love and appreciate the different ethnicities in which he created. They will know that we belong to “Him” by how we love, and love one another! And I know your good friend Toph whom you grew up with. I love that brother!

    • Since we’re all brothers, I think we can speak the truth to one another in love (Eph. 4:15). DL, I’m not seeing how he’s misusing the word “race” in this article, but after talking with you last night I have further clarification on your thinking, and I understand and agree.

      However, in my opinion, the prevailing yet dated interpretations of the term “Racism” have fallen short. First, in defining racism solely as personal prejudice and animosity. In doing so, those definitions have missed the systemic and institutionalized properties of racism which are inextricably interwoven into American society, and which are able to function entirely independent of the personal prejudice and animosity of individuals. I think this is what the New Testament concept of the word “world” (‘cosmos’) means as it refers to the underlying and lawless deeds of humanity manifested in the reality of social evil (1 Cor. 5:9-13; Eph. 2:1-3; Rom. 12:2; 1 John 3:17; 1 John 2:15-16).).

      Secondly, because no one person can be blamed, the invisible hand of racism is able to continue to reach into all areas of life and carry out its mission, unimpeded – namely, the oppression, subjugation and exploitation of people.

      During the latter part of the twentieth century there has been much done to neutralize any thought or action given to the ideas of “race” and “racism,” thus reducing their importance to American society. The reality is, however, that race continues to have an overwhelming influence over all aspects of American life – as the opportunity to share in life’s fullness is often predicated upon those two social constructs (in the US and abroad).

      As painful as it may be for blacks and whites (and all others) to have to remember and face black “his-tory” (or any “whole-story”) – which is really all of our history AND context, it needs to be remembered AND racism (past and present) needs to be defined as SIN – something the Church has yet to internalize. Doing such, puts racism and consequently our nations history and context, back into its originating category by defining it, exposing it, un-neutralizing it, un-sanitizing it, elevating its importance and provoking man towards righteousness and overcoming its devastating effects.

      Every person in the United States is racialized to recognize or accept an identity into a racial group with superior characteristics and powerful rights or inferior characteristics and restricted rights and privileges. This is the POWER of racism! It is quietly internalized and manipulates us into being compliant, comfortable, or even coorperative in fulfilling our predetermined roles. In doing so, it fulfills its underlying purpose – to imprison, control, and ultimately destroy us all.

      Let’s remember two things: Although many of us have been taught that the gospel of Jesus Christ and mission of the Church involves only its salvific components (where did we learn that?) – the gospel is also about living out the realities of the kingdom of God in the HERE and NOW. Secondly, along with inheriting individual righteous standing before God because of the atoning work of Christ, we inherit the responsibility to live and do righteousness. Righteousness in the Bible incorporates the idea of DOING justice, and doing justice in the Bible conveys the idea of righting what has gone wrong, or restoring things to a condition of ‘rightness’ or ‘righteousness.’

      My friends, when Black history is ignored or minimized, people are not exposed to, and SEARCHED by the doctrine of Biblical Justice (sadly and ironically, still not considered a major Bible Doctrine) – and the SINS of racism and injustice in our society remain largely unfound, untouched and un-dealt with. Needless to say, ‘where sin is not found; it is not mortified (killed). It remains un-dealt with – allowing the deeds of the sinful flesh to have its way (Gal. 5:19-21; 1 John 2:16), and instead of becoming part of the solution and removing barriers from affected peoples view of Christ, our faith institutions have largely remained part of the problem.

      My apologies for being long-winded. DL, your a brother and true personal friend and I respect your mind and heart in all of this. God bless to both of you! D.

      • PS please let me clarify further that after discussing this topic with DL face to face, I see and understand his view. I do not, however, see anything wrong with the authors use of the terms in this article. I think it’s well written and I agree on all points.

  2. Pingback: Reformed African American Network Co-Founder, Jemar Tisby, Gives Five Reasons Why Black History Month Should Still Be Celebrated | BCNN1 – Black Christian News Network

  3. Pingback: Jemar Tisby, Co-Founder of the Reformed African American Network, Makes a Case For the Relevance and Importance of Black History Month | BCNN1 – Black Christian News Network

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