As we end out the second week of February, I’m sure you’ve already seen a plethora of think pieces about Black History Month, Afro-American achievements, the Civil Rights Movement and more. You’ll find some pieces explaining why Black History Month is still needed today (*hint* *hint* Stacy Dash) while others focus on its founder, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, and his original vision. Pieces such as this one from Dr. Tony Evans articulates that the celebration of Black History Month among Christians can help address racial tension and disunity within the Church. Towards the end of the article Dr. Evans writes:
“Black History Month gives us an opportunity to intentionally familiarize ourselves in such a way that will enable us to embrace our diversity to its fullest, putting unity to use for good.”
This piece from Chidike Okeem focuses on Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard-trained historian and the author of The Mis-Education of the Negro. Negro History Week, the precursor to Black History Month, was birthed out of a desire to see black achievement celebrated in American society, particularly in academia. Thus, Woodson’s primary focus was in curating curriculum and literature for classroom study. The motivation behind this endeavor can be summed up with this quote from Woodson’s The Mis-Education of the Negro:
“If you teach the Negro that he has accomplished as much good as any other race he will aspire to equality and justice without regard to race.”
As far as I can remember I’ve never approached this annual celebration as seriously as Dr. Tony Evans, Chidike Okeem, or Carter G. Woodson. I remember doing a Wax Museum-like project in elementary school on George Washington Carver. I also remember my high school’s annual Black History Month celebration assembly. However, I don’t remember intentionally celebrating black historical achievements outside of mandatory school projects. Black History Month 2015 was the first time I made an effort to do exactly that. For those 28 days in February, I decided to look up lesser known or unknown black history facts and post what I found on social media. In my search for black history facts I came across inspirational people like;
- Dr. Ernest Everest, the recipient of the Spingarn medal for his pioneering in cell division and fertilization on February 2nd, 1915.
- Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, the first known physician to successfully perform open-heart surgery on February 3rd, 1893.
- Rebecca Lee Crumple, the first black woman to receive a medical degree on February 24th, 1864.
Now with an even greater passion to see diversity celebrated and a love for education, I’ve decided to do more in-depth reading—reading that will extend past the month of February.
Currently, I’m reading Harlem Renaissance by Nathan Irvin Huggins and How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind by Thomas C. Oden. The Harlem Renaissance was an artistic movement that took place in Harlem, NY during the late 20’s and early 30’s. It was an influential movement made up of black intellectuals, artists, poets, playwrights, authors, actors, and musicians. These Harlemites created art addressing black identity, American culture, Jazz, and more. Huggins’ book doesn’t simply relay information about the Harlem Renaissance, instead it seeks to give the reader “a better understanding of America as a whole” during the 20’s and 30’s.
Oden’s book covers ancient African Christianity, the Christianity that existed in Africa before the transatlantic slave trade. Throughout the book, Oden explains how “Africa has played a decisive role in the formation of Christian culture from its infancy.” He also talks about how “some of the most decisive intellectual achievements of Christianity were explored and understood in Africa before they were in Europe.” This is not to be confused with the idea that Europeans stole Egyptian mythology and reworked it into Christianity. Instead, the book seeks to debunk the myth of Christianity being the “white man’s religion.”
As a Spoken Word poet, much of what I do is artistically rooted in the Harlem Renaissance. Jazz poets like Langston Hughes and Melvin B. Tolson were among the first to write poetry in the form of improvised Jazz while addressing black issues. The Jazz poetry developed during the Harlem Renaissance would then evolve into what’s now called Spoken Word poetry. Reading about Ancient African Christianity has deepened my understanding of my faith and it has confirmed the fact that Christianity is more than “European folklore.” North African church leaders like Augustine of Hippo, Tertullian, Origen, and Athanasius of Alexandria all contributed to the theological and practical life of Christianity before it moved westward. If you’re like me and interested in doing more in-depth reading, I’d highly recommend these two books. In case you breeze through those two, here are 20 other books that I’ve read or I’m currently reading:
- The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson
- Navigating the N Word: How Keeping ‘Niggas’ Alive is Killing Black Folk by Brady Goodwin Jr.
- The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Dubois
- Narrative of the Life by Frederick Douglass
- My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass
- Life and Times by Frederick Douglass
- Free at Last? The Gospel in the African American Experience by Carl. F. Ellis Jr.
- With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman by Howard Thurman
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
- The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life by Wallace Thurman
- Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes
- Cane by Jean Toomer
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
- The Stoney Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation by Cain Hope Felder
- Oneness Embraced by Tony Evans
- Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley by Malcolm X
- The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King Jr; Edited by Clayborne Carson
- The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabelle Wilkerson
- Somebody’s Calling My Name: Black Sacred Music and Social Change by Wyatt Tee Walker