Celebrating Black History Month

Powdersville Library Branch Manager Alex Currin reflects on the contributions of African Americans:

At my segregated elementary school in Raleigh, NC, black history was celebrated the second week in February. However, my teachers told us about the contributions of African-Americans throughout the school year.

We learned that there is strong evidence African nations had colonized the new world before Columbus. That a black man, Crispus Attucks, was the first American to die for this country. That the Chicago surgeon Daniel Dale Williams was the first physician to perform a successful heart operation. And that the black community in Los Angeles raised money to send Ralph Bunche to study at Harvard. He would become a diplomat and the first African-American to win the Nobel Peace Prize, 14 years before Martin Luther King, Jr.

Norma Haywood, my fourth-grade teacher, placed a challenge for us who were college-bound: we were to be Dr. King’s lieutenants who would break doors open for those who came after us, or as the scholar W. E. B. DuBois would call us, “The Talented Tenth.”

The superlatives of these great Americans should not overshadow black men and women who aren’t in the history books. I speak of those who bought the freedom of themselves and their families during slavery. Those who served in our two world wars so gallantly that President Truman ordered the integration of the armed forces in 1948. Those who rode buses, sat at lunch counters, and endured fire-hoses and vicious police dogs. Those who challenge authority at the untimely death of African Americans who have had confrontations with law enforcement. And on a more personal note, my grandfather, a farmer in rural North Carolina who sent his nine children to college.

African-American labor built the White House and cleared the frontier. This isn’t to say that the black experience in America has been one of continuous tribulation. African-Americans have been trendsetters throughout this nation’s history. You hear it in our music—the blues, jazz, Motown and hip-hop. You see it in fashion—Ann Lowe designed Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress, Stephen Burrows made clothes people wore to be seen in the disco era, and Russell Simmons and Sean “Diddy” Combs made urban wear commonplace. And filmmakers Spike Lee, Tyler Perry and Gordon Parks have raised the profile of the black aesthetic.

February truly is a time to celebrate the contributions of African-Americans. The library will commemorate the month in the following ways:

  • A crossword puzzle with names and events prominent in black history for ages 12 and under
  • A pathfinder with clues to names and events prominent in black history for teens and adults
  • Pictures of prominent African-Americans that you can take selfies with
  • Bold Type, a program where members of the community read works from prominent African-Americans
  • Reading lists of fiction by African-American authors

Black History is American history. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. Let the journey begin.