This is an article I wrote for the website of the General Commission on Religion and Race of the United Methodist Church. I worked on staff for GCORR as the Coordinator for Advocacy for a good part of 2010. Check it out:
GCORR Celebrates Black History Month: Honoring Black Heritage
BY Victor Cyrus-Franklin
The commemoration of Black History Month in the United States began with the vision of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, the Journal of Negro History and spearheaded ‘Negro History Week’ to promote the heritage and contributions of people of African ancestry in the United States. The second week of February 1926 was chosen to commemorate the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
Since then, other nations throughout the world have created time to affirm the heritage and ongoing contributions of people of African descent. Canada commemorates Black History Month in February, the United Kingdom, observes Black History Month annually in October and Brazil (which has the largest population of black peoples outside of the African continent) celebrates its “Day of Black Awareness” on November 20th.
Throughout the month of February, United Methodists of all “colors” designate time to celebrate the heritage and contributions of black people within the church. The stories of black people in the Methodist church are still under-told and under-appreciated by many, thus creating time to honor this heritage is an important way to affirm the witness of all members of the body of Christ.
It is important to note, that celebrating and commemorating black heritage is not a task for black people alone! At a discussion on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the trans-atlantic slave trade in England, Paul Gilroy, a British scholar in trans-atlantic black culture, suggests “Those of us who were property, should not relate to this history as if it were somebody’s property. It doesn’t belong to anyone.” In fact, Gilroy suggests, such thinking assigns parameters to what our ancestors are “allowed” to say and places artificial limits on to whom they can speak. The voices of our ancestors of African descent are a gift to all humankind and the richness of black heritage provides lessons and a witness that challenges all people to be more human, more free, and more just in human relations.
For the church to live into our call to inclusiveness, honoring black heritage across racial ethnic boundaries is a beginning toward tearing down racist walls between us and becoming a truly inclusive church.