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Our View: Ensuring we recognize the historical contributions of black Americans




Today marks the beginning of Black History Month, which is also the day some misguided people begin to ask, "Why is there no White History Month?" 


The answer to that question should be obvious, of course. If there were reason to believe that the contributions of white Americans had somehow been neglected or ignored in the teaching of our history, setting aside a time to focus of that part of forgotten history would be useful. 


No reasonable person would make that claim, of course, but the same is not true of black history. 


Black History Month was designed to steer attention to a much-neglected part of our national history. It must be remembered that at the time Black History Month became a nationally-recognized event in 1976, our nation was just a decade removed from some of the most important events of the Civil Rights movement. School integration was still relatively new and still bitterly debated in parts of the country. 


From our nation's inception, through a bloody Civil War and for the following 60 years of the Jim Crow South and the less overt racism seen in other parts of the country, little regard to the role of black Americans in our nation's history was either presented from the view of the white population or ignored altogether. 


Over the years, Black History Month has been used as a means to integrate the role played black Americans into our historical narrative. It is like returning missing chapters to a book. Any telling of our history without those stories is incomplete. 


When viewed correctly, we see that understanding this long-ignored part of our national history benefits all Americans, regardless of race. We are better people when we know and understand each other better. When we know each other's history, when we realize that our culture -- through music, art, literature, food, philosophy, politics, theology and the sciences -- has long been connected, intertwined and shaped by Americans of all races, ethnicities and religions, it builds empathy and understanding. 


If our understanding of black history begins and ends with the predictable homages to a handful of great black Americans, we've not made much progress. There is a wealth of that history that lies undiscovered and with it, the lessons it could teach us. 


With the opening of Mississippi's Civil Rights Museum in December, a new generation of Mississippians have a wonderful opportunity to dig deeper into the yet-to-be-discovered riches of our state's black history. Those efforts lend truth and perspective to all of our history and should make us realize that ours is -- or at least should be -- a shared journey toward a common goal. 


If Black History Month achieves nothing more than that, it remains as useful and important as it has ever been.



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