Commentary by Walt Johnson
Americans of all races, colors and creeds joined with African Americans, Feb. 1, to begin the annual African-American Heritage Month celebration.
I look forward to this month each year, mostly because it is the month my mother was born, but it also gives America a chance to celebrate the many accomplishments African-Americans have made to the rich history of the greatest nation on earth.
What I do not look forward to are the people who do not grasp the true meaning of what this month is all about. I have heard many people (and I am talking about people of all races, creeds and colors) say, “What is the purpose of taking a whole month to single out a certain ethnic group’s history?” or “We all should celebrate American history and not single out one group.”
While I appreciate their opinion, I could not disagree more. I disagree, because African-American Heritage month is not just about African-American’s impact on history; it’s about Americans’ impact on history. If one would look beneath the surface of what they think this month is all about, a valuable lesson on American history can be learned by all.
I have been involved in African-American history celebrations over the years, because I am extremely proud of the contributions my ancestors have made and the way my people continue to enrich the American way of life. I wanted to know as much about those contributions as I could, so I started doing some homework and found out that American history includes African-American history. Much of what is good about America, in general, is inseparably intertwined with African-American history.
One of the ugliest scars in the history of our country is the grim reality of slavery. No one denies and many apologize for the evil legacy of slavery. Lots of folks view slavery in this country through a black and white lens where “the white man” has oppressed and enslaved the Negro. The practice of slavery, however, has been carried out by people of all races, creeds, and colors since the dawn of civilization. While many who want to associate slavery solely with the white race, it is just not factual. Also, there were many white Americans who rose up against the idea of slavery and worked tirelessly to get slaves the freedom and dignity that being a free person entails.
In the world of sports, a very courageous white man, Branch Rickey, took the chance and put a black man on the white-only fields known as Major League Baseball. The game has not been the same since. The change made the game better and made American society better.
Another courageous American who happened to be white, Arnold “Red” Auerbach, made Bill Russell the first African-American player-coach in the history of the National Basketball Association, and the sport has not been the same since.
The Cleveland Indians organization named Frank Robinson the first African-American manager and the sport has prospered since.
A young reverend from Georgia dared to stand up to the oppressive antics of some in the nation who pushed for segregation as the norm for the country. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with help from people of many races, colors and creeds, showed America that there was a better way than the separate and unequal treatment the country experienced in the 1950s and 1960s.
Of course, all that and other significant events led to the historic day, January 20, 2009, when the nation’s first African-American commander-in-chief was sworn into office as the 44th president of the United States. Anyone who thinks our current president would be in office without the hard work, confidence and desire to see the country do the best it could without the help of people of all races, colors and creeds is simply fooling themselves. This was an American history moment that happened to be made by a person of African-American heritage.
While it’s nice to celebrate African-American Heritage month, let us always remember that African-American heritage is tied to American heritage and to celebrate one is to celebrate the other.