As we celebrate Black History Month, we should also take some time to reflect on our shared history as Americans and recognize that Black History is American History, and is not distinct to African Americans. That shared history includes the contributions of many successful African Americans which is part of the fabric of our nation and has helped shape us as Americans.
Black History Month is an outgrowth of Negro History Week, established by black historian Carter G. Woodson in 1926. He designated the second week in February to mark the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. The week was expanded to a month in 1976, as part of the nation's Bicentennial commemoration. Black History Month reminds us that we are better than our past; and that our individuality and contributions to history is important to the collective whole. Black history is essential in its contribution to the larger academic and popular story of America's past and its present.
When poet Langston Hughes asked, "What happens to a dream deferred," the question was not limited to the African American dream. Rather, Hughes referenced the American Dream. Hughes described Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman as his primary influences. On March 3rd, 1913, Black suffragist Ida B. Wells marched right along with Inez Milholland in the Pennsylvania Avenue Suffrage Parade. Thomas Jennings, the first African American to hold a patent, patented his dry cleaning process in 1821. Hughes, Wells, and Jennings each exercised their right to the American Dream by being influenced or supported by others, who did not necessarily look like them, nor shared their history. While these history makers may not have gained the same fame as the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., they recognized that "everyone has the power for greatness" and sought to achieve their own American Dream, the largely accepted philosophy which describes freedom as a promise of the possibility of prosperity and success. The contribution of African Americans to American history is the execution of that promise.
I'll finish with an excerpt borrowed from my favorite poet, Langston Hughes' America:
America is seeking the stars
America is seeking tomorrow.
You are America
I am America
America - the dream,
America - the vision
America - the star-seeking I.