Being Black and observing Black History Month

256374_4980219109104_520658526_oFebruary marks the annual observance of Black History Month.   Black History Month is also referred to as National African American History Month, and every president since 1976 has made February “officially” Black History Month.  In 1915, Harvard historian Carter Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the ASNLH, or Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.  The founding of this association was in February, which coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln, the president who abolished slavery, and Frederick Douglass, a prominent figure in Black History.  Another important Black History moment was the founding of the NAACP, or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, on February 12th, 1909, the anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln.

I grew up in a very small town in the center of Illinois.  The metro area of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois was what you would NOT call “ethnically diverse”.  In fact, according to census data, in 1980 the total population was approximately 119,000 people, and of those less than 4700 were Black.  More often than not I was the only Black child in my class.  I didn’t have a Black teacher until I was in the 7th grade, and he was my PE teacher.  I honestly didn’t know anything any differently.  I was very insulated from the “racial” divides that other people experienced, but I did have my share of wondering why people would hate me just because my skin wasn’t the same color as theirs.

I remember the first time someone called me the “N” word.  I was playing on the playground and a boy came up and pushed me off the swing I was on because he wanted it, called me that word, and I just sat there, in shock.  I ran home in tears to my daddy, and my Uncle Dave told me to go back to the playground and punch that boy in the nose.  So, I did.   I know that violence isn’t the way to solve all issues, but it sure made me feel better at the time.

When I was in high school, I was the first Black girl to be elected to the homecoming court in the history of my school.  Apparently history repeats itself, because my mother was also the first Black girl to win homecoming queen.   The difference was that when she won, they had to do another election to appoint a White queen, and when she rode in the parade in the convertible there were snipers on the rooftops along the parade route to protect her.

black-history-month1As I grew older and made my way out into the world, I began to see how different being Black, but raised the way I had been, was.  I got to college and multiple other Black people accused me of “talking too white” or “acting white”.  I honestly didn’t know any other way to act.  My mother and father always told us to act accordingly.  Speak well.  Use proper grammar.  Don’t embarrass yourself or your family in public.  Use your manners.  These are things that I assumed everyone did.

I had always been told of the stories of my forefathers, of the struggles that they had to deal with being Black in America.  When my great-grandmother and great-grandfather had a baby in the 1920’s and he was fair-skinned enough to “pass” for White; and the White couple in the hospital had a stillborn baby; the hospital officials took my great-grandparents son and gave him away.  They had no legal recourse.  They couldn’t go to the police.  They could do nothing.  My grandmother moved from Louisiana so that my father could go to a public school that had real books and didn’t have dirt floors.  My mother’s mother cleaned houses for a living and maternal grandfather worked for US Steel.  They lived in the basement of a house she cleaned, and the boys that lived in the “big house” constantly picked on my mother and her siblings.  One day my uncles fought back, and won.  When the father of the boys got home, he waited for my grandfather and then proceeded to give him what for about my uncles whooping his sons.  All of the kids were in the basement and heard the angry voices, then they heard a “thump”, then nothing else.  My grandfather came downstairs and said “Betty (my grandmother’s name), guess we have to move”.

I never understood why Black history had to be relegated to one month.  Isn’t Black history OUR history?  So many of the inventions we use every day were created by Black inventors.  Black scientists, Black doctors, Black authors.  All are a part of the American History we should all be proud of.  Unfortunately, that is not the case, and we have to set aside one month a year to learn about so many important things that we should be taught the other eleven.



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Melissa McAtee

Melissa McAtee

I'm a single mom of 2 originally from the Midwest. How many people can you say that you know from the Town of Normal? I have one son, age 14 and one daughter, age 17. I'm also engaged to be married in June, 2015. We also have 2 furbabies, Tinkerbella Pixiedust, a 9 pound Chin-Tzu, and Jack Sparrow, our rescue Boxer. I have quite a few nicknames; including Mama Mack, Wonder Woman and Chocolate Mary Poppins (all of which are totally true....).