February is Black History Month. Its origin can be traced back to 1926 when historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans decided to use the second week of February — around the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass — to honor African Americans.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month, stating that the celebration helped to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman said in 2011: “You’re going to relegate my history to a month? … I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history.”
Mr. Freeman is correct — the history of African-Americans is an integral part of the history of our nation. Black men and women have made significant cultural contributions to America, and they have done it all while fighting for their rights.
The Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the civil rights movement, are just some of the periods in our nation’s history that highlight this movement, which liberated not only the African American community but America itself from the worst stains of her history.
It’s important to remember that even if a war ended slavery and the civil rights movement eliminated racist laws, the sin of racism itself is hard to completely eradicate. As we see today, there is much work to be done.
We have seen the Black Lives Matter movement grow — representing the voices of many who say they suffer from oppression and racism in their daily lives.
Racism is a crime and a sin. When a society adopts laws that diminish the dignity of any person, when rights are violated, the crime of racism is obvious. America has come a long way in terms of eliminating laws that perpetuated racism. But the sin of racism can outlive any change in legislation. And we have to win that battle in the heart of each person.
As Christians, we are called to oppose the crime and the sin of racism.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: “The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: ‘Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.’ ”
On June 3, 2020, Pope Francis commented on the death of George Floyd stating: “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”
As we begin celebrating Black History Month, let us recognize that Black history is American history. It is a time to learn about the contributions of so many African Americans and to create awareness about the injustices suffered and honor the heroic struggle that still continues.