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Learning About Black History

February 06, 1988

Here's a quiz for you. Do you know who was the first person to establish a blood plasma bank? Can you name the inventor who built the first machine to attach soles to shoes?

If you answered Dr. Charles Drew and Jan Matzeliger you were correct. You also probably know more about blacks in American history than most Americans. And this is a tragedy that still hasn't changed very much, even though February marks the start of Black History Month.

Most Americans--black and white--still have a scanty knowledge of the contributions of blacks to this country's history. Despite the usual fanfare that accompanies the start of Black History Month, black achievements remain little more than a curiosity item that is too removed from the lives of most Americans to be taken very seriously.

Sadly, much of the blame lies not with white racists who belittle blacks, but with well-meaning black writers and activists. By compartmentalizing black accomplishments into one month they have ghettoized black history, and removed it from the mainstream story of America's growth and development.

Black history shouldn't be studied or celebrated by blacks alone. Whites, too, need to learn what blacks have done and more importantly how their talents and discoveries have enriched the lives of every American. Drew's blood plasma bank saved thousands of our servicemen's lives during World War II--black and white. And since shoes aren't just worn by blacks, it's obvious that whites benefitted from Matzeliger's machine.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not just a black American hero. The monumental gains made by the civil rights movement led by Dr. King affected all Americans, and made the country a better symbol of freedom and democracy to the world.

When we celebrate Black History Month in February Americans must know that black history is not something for blacks alone. Black history is for all. Black history in reality is American history.



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