"Professionals In Caring"
Planning a Funeral
Expressions of Sympathy™
Print this article | E-mail this article | Subscribe
February 2012President's Day | Helping Create a Meaningful Eulogy | Black History Month
Black History Month
Did you know that the man who created the potato chip was of African American and Native American heritage? Or that one of the first men to get a US patent for the traffic light was African American?
With Black History Month fast approaching, this is a great time for you and others to talk about the ways in which African Americans have directly contributed to our every day lives. These stories are valuable, not only because of their individual contributions, but also because of the life lessons they embody.
While there are those who would argue that Black History Month is an out dated custom that segregates the rich achievements and contributions of African Americans and is no longer necessary in this age of the first African American president, the reality is that we as a nation still know relatively little about the role African Americans have played in building this country.
That is exactly why Black History Month first came into being.
We began celebrating Black History in 1926. Back then, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard University trained historian, came up with the idea of Negro History Week after he realized that African Americans were literally being written out of the country’s history books. He picked the second week in February because both Frederick Douglas and President Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays occur in that week.
Born into slavery, Douglas grew up to become a passionate and forceful opponent of slavery, who is to this day remembered for his eloquence and brilliance.
Fifty years after the inception of Negro History Week, it was expanded to a full month in 1976, the year of the U.S. Bicentennial Celebration.
Dr. Woodson, who could be speaking to critics today, explained that Black History month is not meant to segregate black achievements, but to place those achievements in historical context when he said: “We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice.”
Those may be abstract thoughts that are difficult to grasp. But everyone knows that he or she wants to be recognized for their accomplishments, particularly when their friends and fellow students are getting recognition for what they have accomplished. It’s that natural feeling that Dr. Woodson is talking about in the quote above and that lead to the establishment of Black History Month.
And, just as you can break down that quote to help understand why the month was created, you can also use vivid examples that impact your life today to explore some of the achievements of African Americans in this country.
Talk about George Crum, a cook at a Saratoga Springs resort in 1853 when a patron sent back his fried potatoes, complaining that they were not thin and crunchy enough. Crum, who in some reports was said to be something of a cranky cook, made a thinner batch. Those too proved to thick for the demanding diner. Crum kept whittling them down, the customer kept complaining. Finally, he prepared a batch too thin to be eaten with a fork, a move some believe was meant to annoy the customer. Instead, the customer was thrilled and the potato chip was born. It just goes to show that you never know what will prompt the next big innovation.
Innovation was at the heart of Garrett Morgan’s life. The Ohio resident started out fixing sewing machines in the late 1800s, going on to open his own business. His skill and intellect allowed him to expand his business and garner local respect. But it was the use of gas mask he developed that propelled him to national attention when he used it in1916 to rescue some 32 men trapped in a tunnel underneath Lake Erie.
Around the same time, Morgan noticed how the newly invented cars were getting tangled up in the streets with horse drawn vehicles and bicyclists. His solution, a three-position traffic light that not only signaled stop and go, but also had a signal that indicated it was safe for pedestrians to cross the street. He received the US patent in 1923, going on to get it patented in Canada and Great Briton. He eventually sold the rights to the General Electric Corp. for the then very handsome sum of $40,000.
Born a slave, Harriet Tubman looked to the stars to design a way to free her-self and others from the brutal bonds of slavery. Worried that she was about to be sold and sent to another plantation away from her family, Tubman escaped from a Maryland plantation. Making her way at night, she followed the North Star to freedom, eventually ending up in Philadelphia, PA. A year later, Tubman began what was to become regular trips back to the South, when she returned to Maryland to help her sister and two nieces escape. According to an article on the PBS website, Tubman risked her life and freedom 19 times during a ten year period when she returned to slave territory to help lead 300 slaves to freedom.
It is doubtful that any of us will find ourselves in situations that will demand that we perform similar acts of daring bravery, but Tubman’s life should stand as a reminder to all of us to think about what we can do to help those around us.
If Tubman stood for bravery, Rosa Parks sat for equality. Dec. 1, 1955, the Montgomery, Alabama seamstress refused to give up her seat on the city’s bus for a white passenger. Parks was arrested for violating the segregation laws that forced African Americans to live as second-class citizens. Her arrest sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, during which the city’s black population refused to ride the segregated city-owned busses. In the end, Parks’ courageous act led to a US Supreme Court ruling that segregated city buses were unconstitutional, sit-ins and other forms of protest against the racially repressive laws and the rise to national prominence of a young minister named Martin Luther King, Jr.
There may be those who will tell you that one person can’t make a difference. In those cases, remind them of Rosa Parks and assure them that they can help to change the world.
Robert C. Maynard, the only African American to own a major metropolitan newspaper, was fond of saying that while you could only live one life, the study of history and reading of biographies allowed you to learn the lessons of countless other lives.
These are only but four of the contributions that African Americans have made to our lives. Their lives contain powerful lessons that all of us can benefit from today.