Started by Carter G. Woodson in 1926 as “Negro History Week,” the celebration of black history was expanded to a full month in 1976 during the administration of President Gerald Ford.
February is designated as Black History Month, and Woodson’s choice of the second month of the year reflects that the second week of this month coincides with the birthdays of the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass and the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Additionally, February 1 is National Freedom Day, celebrating Lincoln’s signing of a joint House and Senate resolution outlawing slavery. This resolution eventually became the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
The West Linn Alliance observes the importance of this month and urges its members and West Linn residents to reflect on the long and often painful path leading to February 2021. Our country has walked down this long road and watched the slow progression of change. Some have sought to hasten the pace of our journey, while many others attempted to stall the march forward or even have us retreat backward into the past.
Remember in your reflections that national problems always stem from local issues, and West Linn has its share of problems to face. Black history is part of the background story for the racial profiling we routinely see in our community. Zoning ordinances, designed to exclude people of color from white neighborhoods, were implemented across Oregon, including our own community. We should not forget how the unjust and undeserved treatment that Michael Fesser received from our police force has its roots in a long history of racism. It is not enough to look at black history as simply a glimpse in the rearview mirror. Rather, it should inform us about our current issues and the road ahead.
Resolution of inequality first requires an understanding of the problem. An honest and factual knowledge of black history is one of the starting points for real understanding.
Today, we often hear how we live in a post-racial society and that race is no longer a factor in determining a person’s opportunities in life. This type of thinking equates racial equality to eliminating the blatant but legalized racist and segregationist policies of the Jim Crow era. Jim Crow laws were enacted to marginalize African Americans, denying them access to jobs and education, and even denying them the right to vote. While removing unconstitutional laws is a necessary first step, it does not eliminate racism ingrained in our society.
We have watched for half a century as more subtle barriers, both legal and social, were erected to take the place of Jim Crow policy. In 2021, we find ourselves watching as polling places are shut down in neighborhoods dominated by people of color, voter registration requirements are made more onerous with an unstated goal of discouraging voting, and election maps are gerrymandered to thwart the rule of the majority. Not surprisingly, allegations of voter theft and voter fraud seem to arise only in communities dominated by large African American populations. These are not the hallmarks of a post-racial society, and we deceive ourselves if we think otherwise. The journey is not over.
If you have your personal observations or insights for Black History Month, please send them to us, and we will try and publish them on our website: WestLinnAlliance@gmail.com
On February 1, 2021, N’dea Yancey-Bragg published an article worth reading in USA Today:
More Black History Month articles: