Valley Voices

James E. Walton: Why not just drop Black History Month altogether?

James E. Walton
James E. Walton

Now that the short month of February is over, two prominent blacks have clamored for dropping Black History Month.

One, a contributor to Fox News, the other a well-known movie star, argue that black history is, in fact, American history and should be infused throughout the curriculum. The former made incorrect comments echoed by one of the presidential candidates that only blacks get nominated for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Image or BET awards.

No doubt they forgot names like Sam Smith, Steven Spielberg, Robin Thicke, Eminem, George Lucas and Erik Valdez, among others. The awards still exist, according to one website, because of a “lack of racial diversity” in the industry. The latter has made it clear that he will participate in no black history events whatsoever.

“Plus, when is White People’s History Month?” another speaker has challenged. A visit to most of the nation’s secondary high school civic or history classes would denote that the other 11 months of the year are, to be sure, White People’s History Month. How else does the typical youth become so proficient in information about slaveholders like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, to name a few?

When does that same youth learn that Carter G. Woodson, founder of Negro History Week in 1926, later changed to Black History Month, selected February because the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, first president not to own slaves, was born in that month? So was Frederick Douglass.

Quick! Who is the only living American with a Nobel Prize in literature?

Ahmad Rashad, the well-known pro football player and sportscaster once married to Phylicia Rashad, was an all-American at Oregon. What was his name then?

At the point when the average student, without visiting the King Center in Atlanta, can tell you that, at birth and all during his life, Martin Luther King Jr.’s first name legally was “Michael,” not “Martin”; that Gwendolyn Brooks was the first black to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature; and that August Wilson has been awarded two Pulitzers, maybe then …

Perhaps until the average tyke can rattle off that Paul Robeson was valedictorian of his Rutgers class in 1919; that he was an attorney who spoke several languages and was known as a great singer; that he played dramatic parts like Othello and The Emperor Jones, we need to keep the special designation, Black History Month!

James E. Walton is a professor emeritus of English at Fresno State.