Julianne Jennings: Keep talking about race in American history

Buck Franklin, left, and his brother Matthew. The Franklin's grandfather was a slave who had been held by a Chickasaw Nation family. Photo from John Franklin via NMAI

Julianne Jennings explains why African American History Month and Native American Heritage Month matter:
Every U.S. president since 1976 has designated the month of February as Black History Month, beginning with President Gerald Ford, who urged Americans in his speech to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."

But not everyone feels the holiday should be celebrated. In a June 2006 60 Minutes interview, respected actor Morgan Freeman explained to Mike Wallace that he thinks Black History Month is "ridiculous." He doesn’t want his history to be regulated to just one month, and questions why we celebrate various ethnic minority groups in segregated celebrations, instead of a collective whole. Freeman would like to see the holiday go away as he believes it perpetuates racism. “Black history is American history. To stop racism, we need to stop talking about it,” said Freeman.

If our voices were tools of our collective liberation, why would we want to be silent? Whether silencing occurred by socialization, via authority, through social context, or by self-appointment, in each of these instances, silence is used as a form of control, oppression, and manipulation. Some remain silent for personal and professional reasons.

The rebirth of a Jim Crow cast-like system is a result of being silent. Starting in 1890 with a "separate but equal" status for African Americans, the separation in practice led to conditions for African Americans that were inferior to those provided for white Americans. Moreover, silence denies the very rights supposedly won during the Civil Rights Movement. So, where would we be today if it was not for Civil Rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others whose voices made race matter?

Get the Story:
Julianne Jennings: Black History Month: Does Race Matter? (Indian Country Today 2/25)

Join the Conversation