Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said “We are not makers of history—we are made by history.” Reading that quote, I thought about how the history I am living has shaped who am I and how I see the world.
I have been shaped by nearly every encounter and experience I’ve had. I have had experiences that have challenged, inspired, moved and changed me. Some events have left indelible footprints in my mind and in my heart. Some experiences have moved me to action and some to tears.
I have lived long enough to see the impact and struggle of my personal heroes move us closer to the American dream. To borrow from poet Pearl Cleage… “I speak your name:” John Lewis, Huey Newton, Angela Davis, Julian Bond, Fannie Lou Hammer, just to name a few.
Many mornings on my way to work, I would listen to the Tom Joyner Morning show. The TJMS, as it was known, was a nationally syndicated radio program with news, information and entertainment geared toward, but not exclusively to, the Black community.
On the show, there was a segment called “Little known Black History fact.” Five days a week, Tom Joyner and Sybil Wilks would introduce listeners to historical facts about things that have happened that many people may not be aware of.
I want to share a few facts that may also not be well known.
- Before there was Black History Month, there was Black History week. Celebrated in February 1926, Carter. G Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History.” created “Negro History Week” in Washington, D.C.
- Black History Month was officially recognized in 1976, when President Gerald Ford recognized it during the bicentennial celebration of the United States 200th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
- In 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregated transportation facilities, both interstate and intrastate were unconstitutional. The Department of Defense ordered the full racial integration of military reserve units. James Meredith was barred from enrolling as the first black student at the University of Mississippi. This was only 57 years ago.
In my office at St. Stephen’s Community House, there are some clear indications of some other major influences on my life. The things that people would immediately see are a sign on my door and three large posters.
One poster is from the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian titled “Field to Factory -Afro-American Migration 1915-1940.” I attended this exhibit in the late 1980’s. I was and still am drawn to the poster which features a young African American girl and an over-packed car. The photo used on the poster became the symbol of black migration from the farms of the rural South to find a new place of opportunity in the North. It reminds me of my own families move from Alabama to Ohio.
There is also a poster of one of my personal heroes, a former slave, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. On the poster, there is a quote that says, “There is no negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, to live up to their own constitution…”
Directly above my desk is a photo of my 12-year-old self-wearing a “Jets for Jesus” sweatshirt. This picture reminds me of my decision to give all my hopes, dreams, plans and future to Christ. This helps me to look at black history through HIS eyes and not mine. As Christian writer C.S. Lewis wrote, “ To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
Black History Month is more than Martin Luther King, Jr. Black History Month is a time to reflect on where we are as a country and where we still need to go. It is a time to not only celebrate the contributions, accomplishments, and achievements of African Americans, but it is a time to reflect on the larger meaning of “We the People.”
Harriet Tubman once said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, patience, and the passion to reach for the stars and to change the world.”
As we celebrate Black History Month, we continue to build on the work, sweat, and dreams of many courageous dreamers who came before us and we continue to lift and celebrate those in our community whose dreams have not yet been actualized.
This article was written by Tommy Ferguson. Tommy graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in Journalism and has worked at St. Stephen’s Community House as our Education Coordinator for 10 years.