But Why…. Why Do We Celebrate Black History Each February?
So black history month….. Black History Month’s genesis was seeded in Chicago during the summer of 1915. An Carter G. Woodson traveled from Washington, D.C. Chicago to participate in a national celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation sponsored by the state of Illinois. Thousands of African Americans travelled from across the country to see exhibits highlighting the progress Black people abolition of slavery. This exhibit was in high demand, an overflow crowd of 6-12 thousand waited outside for their turn at different times to view the exhibits. It was held at the Coliseum which had hosted the Republican Convention three years prior. No small venue. This three week celebration inspired Woodson to form an organization to promote the scientific study o black life and along with the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by black Americans and other peoples of African descent. The group sponsored a national Negro History week in 1926, choosing the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The event inspired schools and communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs and host performances and lectures. My Daddy was there.
In the decades that followed, mayors of cities across the country began issuing yearly proclamations recognizing Negro History Week. By the late 1960s, thanks in part to the civil rights movement and a growing awareness of black identity, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses.
In 1976, fifty years after the first celebration, the Association used its influence to institutionalize the shifts from a week to a month and from Negro history to black history. President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Since the mid-1970s, every American president, Democrat and Republican, has issued proclamations endorsing the Association’s annual theme.
Some ask, why is there a black history month and I can tell you as a black male that spent much of my schooling era in predominately white schools, If my father was not a history teacher I would have thought that Martin Luther king was a prophet, Malcolm X was a demon and that the Africans contribution to America was limited slavery to sports and entertainment.
While Black History Month has been criticized by both black people and people of other races for its unfairness in devoting an entire month to a single group of people, there are lessons to be learned by everyone from celebrating black history, especially as it relates to our faith …in God. During this celebratory month we have the opportunity to reflect on the rich contributions of African descendants to history and remember the price paid by others for all of us to have the privileges that we have. We will get to see how my Daddy has been there along the way.
In Deuteronomy 4:8-9 Moses preaches a long sermon before he died and he emphasized history. He told the people to remember and to teach their children otherwise they would forget. In chapter six verse 7 he goes a step farther. He tells them to diligently teach their children. That word diligently means to show persistence and hard work in doing something. In other words, Moses was telling the people to make teaching their kids about everything God had done for them a priority.
He told them to talk about what God had done and His laws when they sat in their homes, when they walked down the street, when they went to bed and when they got up.
The image that he was painting was that they should always (persistently) be teaching their children and their children’s children about God and everything He had done for them. They were to always be talking about it. Finally he told them that they should write the words on the doorframes of their homes and on their gates. This was to ensure that the words were forever before their eyes.
In other words Moses was constantly telling his people to tell the children about how their Daddy was there, how God was there at the beginning, how God was there in the middle so they could be assured that He will be there as time passed to the end.
So by teaching about Black History, it should not be a gloss regurgitation of the minimal that we all know. Black folks were enslaved, brought to this country, many were murdered, they were freed, Rosa Parks sat in the front of a bus, Martin Luther King made a speech and Barak Obama became president. This does a huge disservice to the edict to Moses to teach the children about God and everything he has done for them…..
So let’s step back….. What do we mean by black. I do not have the time, nor desire to argue anthropology with folks, but I can state some things definitively.
Africa is Over 11.6 million square miles. It is as far from one end to the another from Boston to Buenas Aires Argentina very far. It contains people of many shades, hair types, eye colors, and make-ups, body sizes and style . It contains the world’s tallest people Watusi (i.e. Manut Bol) normally exceeding 7 feet. It contains the world shortest people, the pigmy’s who’s average male height is no more than five feet maybe 5’1”.
There are blue black people in Sudan and the Nubians. You have chocolate Brown complecxion in West Africa. You have pecanned color in Ethiopia. So when you’re talking about black, we’re talking about any of those variations any of those colors and body sizes. In this country we have had the one drop rule where if a person had any black blood in their gene pool, they were considered black. For the purposes of this message and the following weeks we are celebrating Black as the derivative of African men and women without a quantification.
Follow me….In the beginning in 3761 BC according to Jewish tradition the date Adam and Eve were created in the garden of Eden between 3740 BC and 2500 BC we have Cain Abel and Seth being born to their parents Adam and Eve. My Daddy Was There….
I think we all know these biblical stories we know that Cain kills Abel and his exiled wandering the eastern land of Nod. We move forward in time and have the flood that destroys Eden and all the ancient ones. The eight people on the ark, Noah, Mrs. Noah his three sons Japheth, Ham and Shem and their wives re-populated the earth after the flood (1 Peter 3:20). Noah, Mrs. Noah the three sons and their wives All of the earth population came from those 3 sons. It is generally accepted that Ham is the father of the black race.
If Ham is the father of the black race we’re doing sort of a reverse genealogy here not starting with present as is normally the case and working back, we’re starting with our earliest known ancestor and working forward so with Ham as the father of the black race. The Bible does not deal with people by race it does not say this person was black or White or Asian or white or otherwise, it talks about their family linkage and it talks about the places where they lived so we need to know the families and we need them know their place of habitation.
These are Hams four sons as indicated in Genesis chapter 10 versus 6 through 20 Cush, Mizraim, Put and Canaan. Mizraim settled in Egypt. Cush settled in what is known today as Sudan and Ethiopia, Put or Phut settled in what is known as Libya, and Canaan settled the land of Palestine the land we know today is Israel.
Yes, this is the same Canaan that the Israelites thought of as the land of milk and honey. Israel, the home of Jerusalem, the home of Jesus.
So at these early stages in history, Ham, Cush, Mizraim put Caanan would be identified as black. Specific people who were identified as such include Nimrod Genesis chapter 10 verse 9 and Nimrod was a mighty Hunter before the Lord warden said even as Nimrod the mighty Hunter before the Lord.
My Daddy was there.
The Canaanites were descendants of Ham, Gen 10:8-20 mentions the Philistines, Amorites, Hittites as descendants of Cush Egypt and Canaan. Around 2100 BC Abraham lived in Ur and he went North to Heron and went into Canaan then to Egypt, then back to Canaan. Make no mistake not every person in the Bible was Black, but we cannot tell world history, the history of the Bible without Black history, and without taking dedicated time for this, many of us would go on thinking that Moses looked like Charleton Heston, Brad Pitt or Chris Hemsworth and Jesus like a hippie, that there are no Asians in world history and that the black folks were all slaves. The Bible tells us otherwise…
Think about it…..Where does the Bible take place.
We live with the presumption that the players in the Bible were mostly White men because of the famous portrait of the last Supper painted by DaVince, because of our nurtured tendency to immediately credit all great history to Europeans. However, a quick glance at a map lined up with the text of the Bible tells a different tale. The Bible is a multi-cultural book. One of the effects of racism is the whitewashing chauvinistic view of history and sadly this has taken place even in our biblical studies. The outset of human history is captured in the Bible, it enveloped the south of Spain to current day Iraq, Ethiopia to the South to the Black Sea in the North. The Middle East, southern Europe and Northern Africa. From these countries you have all races represented and participating in the story of God’s creation, relation, judgment, and salvation of mankind.
It is difficult to see the Black presence in the Bible because you won’t read the terms black or African but you will read the terms Ethiopians, Cushites, Egyptians, Hebrews, or other tribal terms. Ethiopia is mentioned 45 times in the Bible; add this to the number of times Egypt is mentioned, and Africa is mentioned more than any other land mass in the Bible. It should also be noted that the “Middle East,” including the Holy Land was connected to Africa until 1859 when the Suez Canal was completed and had been referred to North East Africa for the majority of modern history.
People should know that Blacks have always played a role in God’s plan for humanity and were not an afterthought subject to the desire and needs of captors, governments, and labor needs. Specific to this discussion we look to the participation of the black people as we celebrate Black History.
Hagar, the Egyptian concubine of Abraham, may well have derived her ancestry from south of Egypt, and she alone of all the Bible characters gives God a name (Gen 16:13). Like Abraham, she meets God in the form of an angel and is given a promise that her progeny shall become a great nation (Gen 21:18). Moses’ Cushite wife Zipporah aroused the bitter jealousy of his sister Miriam. (Num 12:11-16). Amusingly, Miriam, who resents her black sister-in-law, becomes white with leprosy until she mends her ways. If his Cushite wife was Zipporah, then Moses’ father-in-law is Jethro the priest, who instituted the judicial, administrative, and sacrificial patterns of Israel (Ex 18:1-27). He and his family had received the exiled Moses during Moses’ forty years as a shepherd in Sinai.
Zipporah had understood the importance of circumcision and performed the ritual on their sons (Ex 18:1-27). Moses looked to his father-in-law for guidance and direction (Num 10:29-32; Jdg 1:16). When the Israelites settled the land of Canaan, there were Africans among them. Some may have left Egypt along with the Israelites at the time of the Exodus; others came with military invaders (1 Kg 14:25-28; 2 Chr 12:2-3; 14:9-15; cf. 16:8). Apparently an Ethiopian colony was created at Gerar as a buffer between Egypt and Judah. Thus, the Ethiopians became permanent residents in Palestine, remaining there until the time of Hezekiah (715-685 BCE).
Persons of African descent appear to have taken an active role in Israel’s social and political life. The bride in Song of Solomon is “black and beautiful” (Song 1:5). A Cushite who possessed tact, discretion, and a high position in the royal court appeared as a trusted courtier sent to tell David news of Absalom’s death (2 Sam 18:19-32).
Africans continued to enjoy royal favor, as Solomon married an Egyptian princess (1 Kg 9:16, 24; 2 Chr 8:11) and received the Queen of Sheba (1 Kg 10:1-13; 2 Chr 9:1-2). This influential queen ruled dark-skinned peoples on both sides of the Red Sea, and she may well have initially come to Solomon to negotiate a trade treaty with his growing maritime power. Though she tested him with hard questions, in the end she told him all that was in her heart. It appears that in this black woman Solomon found a kindred spirit with whom he could discourse freely.
When Cushite pharaohs ruled over Egypt, they contracted military alliances with both Israel and Judah, especially during the time of the Twenty-fifth or Cushite Dynasty. Sabacho (716-701 BC, called So in 2 Kings 17:4) contracted an alliance against Assyria with Hoshea, king of Israel, while Tirhakah (690-664) came to the aid of Hezekiah when Jerusalem was beseiged (2 Kg 19:9; Is 37:9). Mortuary figurines of Tirhakah clearly reveal his African features, and his enormous statue still towers above the great temple complex at Karnak.
This is not meant to be a comprehensive enumeration of Scriptural mentions of Black folks, it’s just to show that Africans were there in roles other than slaves. Just to let you know My Daddy was there. And if you don’t know now you know.
Stay tuned for Part 2, Africa in the New Testament and the Early Church.