Published On: Fri, Feb 3rd, 2017

Black History Month: a time to Recognize, also to Educate

While scouring garage sales, thrift shops and antique stores recently for artifacts to create a traveling museum for Black History Month, someone asked me, “Why do you people have to celebrate your own month?”

I politely quipped, “That’s a good question. In fact, Why can’t we just celebrate white history every month of the year?”

But then I quickly remembered that for the other 11 months of the year, the focus is on white history in our high-school history classes. So as not to sound like an imbecile, I elevated the conversation and used the opportunity to educate my soon-to be new friend about the contributions and achievements of a people who were overlooked or discounted in our past while they helped build this country into what it is today.

“Did you know that the man who invented the very first three-light traffic signal in 1923Traffic lights Traffic lights was Garrett Morgan, a black man?” I asked him. And like a machine gun, I hit him with a barrage of questions: “Did you know that a black businessman, Alfred L. Cralle, patented the first ice cream scoop? And believe it or not, that ice cream scoop has not changed at all since 1897.”

Before I could finish my third question, “were you aware that it was a black engineer (Alexander Miles) who invented several critical safety features of the elevator?” he interrupted: “And if that was so, so what?”

I responded with, “Because that is a big deal. If you had designed something as simple as the dustpan and broom, would you like to receive credit for your invention?”

I could see the cogs turning in his head. Then he nodded and asked, “Who are you? You are either a doctor or a professor.”

“I am neither,” I responded. “I am just a community servant who want to ensure that all children get an appreciation early about the contributions made by blacks since they do not learn it in schools.”

I told him that it was a 28-day period when we highlight some of the often-forgotten accomplishments of blacks throughout history.

He wanted to know more about how the observance began so I told him how in 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson had the idea that if Americans knew the contributions that black people made to this country and to the world, white Americans would stop thinking that we were inferior. He also thought that black Americans would then take their rightful place, in human history, as geniuses, explorers, inventors, leaders and the like, I added.

I told him that if we do not remind our youth and some adults about their history we could find ourselves like Texas with pieces of our history being omitted from the history books.

The new curriculum instituted in 2015 makes no mention of the Ku Klux Klan ‒ a white supremacist organization that has used terror tactics against blacks, and Jim Crow laws that instituted racial segregation following the abolition of slavery in the American South.

My new friend got a lesson in black history that morning and since then, we have seen each other twice including a lunch meeting. He apologetically admitted his ignorance and has since been viewing black people through a different set of lens.

Like my friend, there are many who are ignorant to the facts. It is therefore our duty to educate them about the proud achievements, just as any other race of people do around here.

That is why the travelling museum on Estella’s Brilliant Bus will be visiting schools in the county to share a slice of history with students.

As I poured through newspaper archives and history books, I gleaned so much information about the contribution that blacks made in the early days of Boca Raton and Delray Beach.

Today, Delray Beach, unlike Boca Raton, remains very much a melting pot of a place, with a diverse population that is visible across every area of life, from our city government to our city schools and in the private sector businesses that support the local economy.

Black History Month is a time for us to celebrate contributions people have made in many cases under adverse conditions. It is inspiring. It gives perspective. It is educational.

  1. Ron Allen can be reached at [email protected] or 561-665-0151.

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