Nina Howard

The month of February is recognized nationally as Black History Month. It is dedicated to the overlooked history of African American contributions and oppression in America. People often point out the irony that the shortest month of the year is deemed the month to highlight African American achievements and their fight against oppression, but regardless, it’s important that we make the most of this opportunity to recognize Black History.

As any people’s history and culture is important to celebrate, it is important to celebrate African American history and culture because of their contributions in America’s many successes as a country. This is Beyond the Books because the Black History we hear about tends to become repetitive and limited — repetitive in that history books highlight the same heroes and achievements, and limited in that the history told is not the entire history, leaving out vital parts to make the stories easier to tell.

For example, students are taught every year that Dr. Martin Luther King was the face of the Civil Rights Movement, but we never learn of the people who worked behind the scenes on the logistical aspects that allowed the movement to happen.

Students are fed Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Rosa Parks stories as the ultimate symbol of black strength, but never learn of their restrictions as not only women, but black women. Black History Month has become a surface-level endeavor, despite its actual depth. Students get to college and often begin to learn a new depth of Black History as primary/secondary schools neglect their responsibility of telling “the whole truth.”

It is imperative that students of color, as well as white students, learn about Bayard Rustin, who was essentially the director of the Civil Rights Movement. As he worked closely with Dr. King, he was recognized as the chief organizer of the March on Washington and held other prominent roles in King’s appearances to the public. Also, Pauli Murray, who ultimately represents the intersectionality — the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination combine, overlap or intersect, especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups — of race and gender in America as it related to equality. She is the author of “States’ Laws on Race and Color.”

Nevertheless, Black History Month is not just to highlight African Americans’ long history of oppression and fight against it in America, but also their achievements despite such oppression.

Though educational systems fail to properly teach and recognize Black History, it is also the responsibility of all people to learn and accept all aspects of this history to adequately represent, address and honor Black History Month.

Moreover, it is necessary to adequately represent, address and honor Black History Month to ensure that we, as a country, are simply aware and do not repeat such history.

In honor of Black History Month, I challenge students to learn something new about people of color and share the stories of the unsung, whether it be a pertinent event or person to any part of the History of African Americans. Go Beyond the Books.

Nina Howard is a sophomore majoring in journalism and electronic media. She can be reached at nhoward5@vols.utk.edu.

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