In the groups I’m in on Facebook, I see questions like, “What’s everyone doing for Lent?” “Should we whisper about Easter?” Before that, it was “What are you doing about Advent?” “How will you do your Christmas pageant online?” A question I haven’t seen so much is, “What are you doing for Black History Month?” I’m not here to shame you or finger point. We’re all doing our best. But I’ve been reading Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited, so I feel compelled to ask this question.
What are you doing for Black History Month?
Some folks might think, “Well, I don’t have any black people at my church, so why should we do Black History Month?” At my church growing up, I don’t remember celebrating Black History Month. That’s probably because I went to a black church, so it was always time to learn about black history. I don’t remember much about my own Black History Month school celebrations except that we did study black history. I’m forgetful. I do remember my three girls studying African American inventors and other famous African Americans in February. The focus seemed to be more on people than historical events.
Still, schools do an okay job of studying black history in black history month – that is if they study black history. We did a lot of study at home because, as black people, we have to know our history and American history, which means history through the lens of the dominant culture.
Here’s a picture book that will educate your kids and you and initiate conversation.
28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World by Charles R. Smith, Jr. and illustrated by Shane W. Evans, is an excellent place to start a daily practice of learning black history. You can read a page each day and add additional resources as you wish. Day 2 was the Dred Scott decision. Along with a portrait of Mr. Scott by artist and illustrator Shane W. Evans, you’ll find the words of Roger Taney, US Supreme Court Justice. Taney, a supporter of slavery, wrote:
“We think [people of African ancestry] are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.
They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery…He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it.”
OUCH. Wow, that’s tough to read. That’s a Supreme Court Chief Justice saying that my ancestors, elders, and I are inferior people. And it was law. A few questions to aid your discussion:
- If God created us in God’s image, how do Taney’s words make sense?
- What would Jesus say about Taney’s perspective?
- How do you have a conversation with your children and teens about what Taney wrote and the fact that people still believe his words?
We have an obligation as Christians to study black history. Regardless of your race or ethnicity, black history is your history. Please, make time and space to learn it. It’s not taught nearly enough in schools. As Christians, we have the gift of putting Black History into a Christian context. Christians and churches also have the luxury of choosing to ignore Black History Month.
It’s not too late to start. Please help your children understand what the church means when we talk about Becoming Beloved Community. We’re all a part of it. Some of us can’t see each other in that community yet. But believe me, we’re there. For a comprehensive introduction, try The 1619 Project.
For more books about black history, visit my list of picture books. Please email me or comment below with specific questions and for book recommendations. One day, picture books about the history of blacks in the Episcopal Church will be on the list. Until then, the above picture honors a few of my elders, friends, and family constantly creating black history.
PS A note about my capitalization: I interchangeably capitalize and lowercase the word black. I typically use lower case except for holidays and events. Even then, I might miss one here or there. I’m generally not a fan of caps in any situation.
In the photo, clockwise from top left: The Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas, The Rt. Rev. Herbert Thompson Jr., The Rev. Canon Nan Peete, The Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris, The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, my dad The Rev. Canon Wilson H. Willard Jr. with The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry and The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers.