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Celebrating Black History as U.S. History


Headshots of four women combined into one photo
Civil rights attorney and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong, attorney and MAAH museum co-founder Tina Burnside, author Shannon Gibney and filmmaker Bianca Rhodes share their thoughts on Black History Month.

Black History Month is an annual celebration to – as President Gerald Ford decreed – “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” The annual observance has taken place since 1976, and is a time to center the Black experience and voice. 


Though the month is celebrated with appreciation, there is still debate about whether a month-long acknowledgment is enough to truly honor the significance regarding the contribution of the African diaspora to the country's history and culture. 


Co-founder of the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery, Tina Burnside, says Black history should not be relegated to a month in February, because Black history is American history.  


“Enslaved Africans built America's infrastructure and agricultural economy,” said Burnside. “After slavery, despite discrimination and racial violence, Black people have made significant contributions in all aspects of American society, from developments in science, service in the military, leading the fight for civil and labor rights, expanding equality in education, and participation in the industrial workforce that supported America's growth in manufacturing. Black people have also created and influenced the development of American arts, music, food, fashion and culture. Therefore, it should not be Black History Month, but Black history should be fully incorporated into the narrative and teaching of American history.” 


Burnside is not the only one who feels this way.


“Black History is worthy to be celebrated 365 days a year, given the unparalleled contributions by Black people in all elements of American life,” said civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong. 


Levy Armstrong, who has worked on numerous cases involving injustices faced by Black and brown people, says a month of amplifying our historical and contemporary significance is insufficient. 


“The ways in which our culture, heritage, ingenuity, creativity, brilliance, and fight for freedom have impacted world history and influenced many cultures, customs, trends, institutions, laws, and policies on a global scale… Black Americans' unrelenting fight for freedom, justice, and equality has served as a catalyst for changes to civil rights and human rights laws and has resulted in millions of people having access to more freedoms and greater protections under the law,” said Levy Armstrong.

 

Author and educator Shannon Gibney, who dedicates her time to uplifting Black narratives, agrees. She says the continued acknowledgment of Black stories is important. And not just by Black people in America, but by all who reap their contributions.


"It's time to revisit and reflect on the incredible histories of resistance that Black folks have enacted since we were dragged here in chains. It's time to celebrate the truth-telling that is at the center of our artistry, organizing, and activism. To dream of what could be, and how we could use these legacies of hope to create better worlds for our communities and the world."


And while engaging with the history of Blackness in America is a way to sustain and celebrate its legacy, filmmaker Bianca Rhodes says so is the ancient act of resistance found in Black culture and joy.


“We overcome obstacles daily!” said Rhodes. “I think of what my ancestors had to overcome and it makes me want to work even harder towards what I do.  We are truly our ancestors' wildest dreams and if not for ourselves, [then] for them, we should dream big! Honestly, it is a time to truly enjoy, stand out and be proud of who we are, and not hold back.” 

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