Why We Still Need Black History

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The election of Barack Obama has created a cultural tsunami in some circles.

Lately, I've been whistling Jimi Hendrix and wondering what would truly happen if six turned out to be nine. Before we decide to stand on our heads and proclaim a post-racial society, let's add a few more candles to the Black History Month cake.

When Obama mentioned in his inauguration address that we should put away childish things, I don't think this was a reference to Black History Month. Let's hope not.

Just a few months ago, I was reading a wonderful biography of Hubert Harrison. He was a well-known cultural and political figure after World War I. I really had no idea who Harrison was. I remember seeing his name mentioned in Harold Cruse's The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, but I had no idea of Harrison's significant contribution to the New Negro Movement and Harlem Renaissance.

Learning about Harrison has given me a new perspective on the black contribution to this country after World War I. Harrison's story is just another remarkable tale of what's hidden inside the vault of black history.

When Martin Luther King Jr. mentioned in 1963 that his dream was a dream rooted inside the American dream, he could also have been talking about black history. Black history is American history. It's two trains running, it's the river seeking the ocean, it's one bright star in a constellation of stars.

The making of America consists of numerous chords, and it's important that we celebrate the music of our beginnings, the songs of our struggles, and the notes that seek a chorus among future generations.

Black history is like the blues. It's survival music. It's pain and beauty. It's constantly inventing itself and discovering a new harmony and new singers. The blues is memory, and it only finds rest in our souls. This is why we teach and celebrate black history every year. History as soul music.

Where would we be without our soul? How could one even read the U.S. Constitution without playing those notes that disguised themselves as amendments?

If people feel they no longer need to celebrate Black History Month, then they want the dance without the music. I will continue to honor my ancestors and Black History Month. America is singing once again. Now, for our Black History Month quiz: Name an African-American president. No cheating and no asking a friend. As you know, the answer is Barack Obama. Now isn't that a wonderful reason to celebrate this month of February?

Ethelbert Miller is a poet and the director of the African-American Resource Center at Howard University.



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