Black History Month 2023 :: Why BHM is Important

Origins of Black History Month

Daryl Michael Scott


The story of Black History Month begins in Chicago during the summer of 1915. An alumnus of the University of Chicago with many friends in the city, Carter G. Woodson traveled from Washington, D.C. to participate in a national celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation sponsored by the state of Illinois. Thousands of African Americans traveled from across the country to see exhibits highlighting the progress their people had made since the destruction of slavery. Awarded a doctorate in Harvard three years earlier, Woodson joined the other exhibitors with a black history display. Despite being held at the Coliseum, the site of the 1912 Republican convention, an overflow crowd of six to twelve thousand waited outside for their turn to view the exhibits. Inspired by the three-week celebration, Woodson decided to form an organization to promote the scientific study of black life and history before leaving town. On September 9th, Woodson met at the Wabash YMCA with A. L. Jackson and three others formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH).

He hoped that others would popularize the findings that he and other black intellectuals would publish in The Journal of Negro History, which he established in 1916. As early as 1920, Woodson urged black civic organizations to promote the achievements that researchers were uncovering. A graduate member of Omega Psi Phi, he urged his fraternity brothers to take up the work. In 1924, they responded with the creation of Negro History and Literature Week, which they renamed Negro Achievement Week. Their outreach was significant, but Woodson desired greater impact. As he told an audience of Hampton Institute students, “We are going back to that beautiful history and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements.” In 1925, he decided that the Association had to shoulder the responsibility. Going forward it would both create and popularize knowledge about the black past. He sent out a press release announcing Negro History Week in February, 1926.

Woodson chose February for reasons of tradition and reform. It is commonly said that Woodson selected February to encompass the birthdays of two great Americans who played a prominent role in shaping black history, namely Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, whose birthdays are the 12th and the 14th, respectively. More importantly, he chose them for reasons of tradition. Since Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, the black community, along with other Republicans, had been celebrating the fallen President’s birthday. And since the late 1890s, black communities across the country had been celebrating Douglass’. Well aware of the pre-existing celebrations, Woodson built Negro History Week around traditional days of commemorating the black past. He was asking the public to extend their study of black history, not to create a new tradition. In doing so, he increased his chances for success.

Yet Woodson was up to something more than building on tradition. Without saying so, he aimed to reform it from the study of two great men to a great race. Though he admired both men, Woodson had never been fond of the celebrations held in their honor. He railed against the “ignorant spellbinders” who addressed large, convivial gatherings and displayed their lack of knowledge about the men and their contributions to history. More importantly, Woodson believed that history was made by the people, not simply or primarily by great men. He envisioned the study and celebration of the Negro as a race, not simply as the producers of a great man. And Lincoln, however great, had not freed the slaves—the Union Army, including hundreds of thousands of black soldiers and sailors, had done that. Rather than focusing on two men, the black community, he believed, should focus on the countless black men and women who had contributed to the advance of human civilization.

From the beginning, Woodson was overwhelmed by the response to his call. Negro History Week appeared across the country in schools and before the public. The 1920s was the decade of the New Negro, a name given to the Post-War I generation because of its rising racial pride and consciousness. Urbanization and industrialization had brought over a million African Americans from the rural South into big cities of the nation. The expanding black middle class became participants in and consumers of black literature and culture. Black history clubs sprang up, teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils, and progressive whites stepped and endorsed the efforts.

Woodson and the Association scrambled to meet the demand. They set a theme for the annual celebration and provided study materials—pictures, lessons for teachers, plays for historical performances, and posters of important dates and people. Provisioned with a steady flow of knowledge, high schools in progressive communities formed Negro History Clubs. To serve the desire of history buffs to participate in the re-education of black folks and the nation, ASNLH formed branches that stretched from coast to coast. In 1937, at the urging of Mary McLeod Bethune, Woodson established the Negro History Bulletin, which focused on the annual theme. As black populations grew, mayors issued Negro History Week proclamations, and in cities like Syracuse progressive whites joined Negro History Week with National Brotherhood Week.

Like most ideas that resonate with the spirit of the times, Negro History Week proved to be more dynamic than Woodson or the Association could control. By the 1930s, Woodson complained about the intellectual charlatans, black and white, popping up everywhere seeking to take advantage of the public interest in black history. He warned teachers not to invite speakers who had less knowledge than the students themselves. Increasingly publishing houses that had previously ignored black topics and authors rushed to put books on the market and in the schools. Instant experts appeared everywhere, and non-scholarly works appeared from “mushroom presses.” In America, nothing popular escapes either commercialization or eventual trivialization, and so Woodson, the constant reformer, had his hands full in promoting celebrations worthy of the people who had made the history.

Well before his death in 1950, Woodson believed that the weekly celebrations—not the study or celebration of black history–would eventually come to an end. In fact, Woodson never viewed black history as a one-week affair. He pressed for schools to use Negro History Week to demonstrate what students learned all year. In the same vein, he established a black studies extension program to reach adults throughout the year. It was in this sense that blacks would learn of their past on a daily basis that he looked forward to the time when an annual celebration would no longer be necessary. Generations before Morgan Freeman and other advocates of all-year commemorations, Woodson believed that black history was too important to America and the world to be crammed into a limited time frame. He spoke of a shift from Negro History Week to Negro History Year.

In the 1940s, efforts began slowly within the black community to expand the study of black history in the schools and black history celebrations before the public. In the South, black teachers often taught Negro History as a supplement to United States history. One early beneficiary of the movement reported that his teacher would hide Woodson’s textbook beneath his desk to avoid drawing the wrath of the principal. During the Civil Rights Movement in the South, the Freedom Schools incorporated black history into the curriculum to advance social change. The Negro History movement was an intellectual insurgency that was part of every larger effort to transform race relations.

The 1960s had a dramatic effect on the study and celebration of black history. Before the decade was over, Negro History Week would be well on its way to becoming Black History Month. The shift to a month-long celebration began even before Dr. Woodson death. As early as 1940s, blacks in West Virginia, a state where Woodson often spoke, began to celebrate February as Negro History Month. In Chicago, a now-forgotten cultural activist, Fredrick H. Hammurabi, started celebrating Negro History Month in the mid-1960s. Having taken an African name in the 1930s, Hammurabi used his cultural center, the House of Knowledge, to fuse African consciousness with the study of the black past. By the late 1960s, as young blacks on college campuses became increasingly conscious of links with Africa, Black History Month replaced Negro History Week at a quickening pace. Within the Association, younger intellectuals, part of the awakening, prodded Woodson’s organization to change with the times. They succeeded. In 1976, fifty years after the first celebration, the Association used its influence to institutionalize the shifts from a week to a month and from Negro history to black history. Since the mid-1970s, every American president, Democrat and Republican, has issued proclamations endorsing the Association’s annual theme.

What Carter G. Woodson would say about the continued celebrations is unknown, but he would smile on all honest efforts to make b[B]lack history a field of serious study and provide the public with thoughtful celebrations.

Daryl Michael Scott
Professor of History
Howard University
Vice President of Program, ASALH
© 2011, 2010, 2009 ASALH

“One Side Dark, Other Side Hard : Black America In the GAP ” § May 16, 2020

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Guest: Dr. Deirdre Cooper Owens, Ph.D.

Professor and Director of the Humanities in Medicine Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln;

Author, “Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology”

May 16, 2020    ↔ 10 pm EDT LIVE
Tune In Here:

Deirdre Cooper Owens is the Linda and Charles Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine and Director of the Humanities in Medicine program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is an Organization of American Historians’ (OAH) Distinguished Lecturer and has won a number of prestigious honors that range from the University of Virginia’s Carter G. Woodson Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies to serving as an American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology Fellow in Washington, D.C.

Cooper Owens earned her Ph.D. from UCLA in History and wrote an award-winning dissertation while there. A popular public speaker, she has published articles, essays, book chapters, and think pieces on a number of issues that concern African American experiences. Recently, Cooper Owens finished working with Teaching Tolerance and the Southern Poverty Law Center on a podcast series about how to teach U.S. slavery and Time Magazine listed her as an “acclaimed expert” on U.S. history in its annual “The 25 Moments From American History That Matter Right Now.”

Her first book, Medical Bondage: Race, Gender and the Origins of American Gynecology (UGA Press, 2017) won the 2018 Darlene Clark Hine Book Award from the OAH as the best book written in African American women’s and gender history.

Professor Cooper Owens is also the Director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia, the country’s oldest cultural institution founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731. She is working on a second book project that examines mental illness during the era of United States slavery and is writing a popular biography of Harriet Tubman that examines her through the lens of disability.

We will be talking with her about Black America in the pandemic, historical underbelly of health history and its impact on us today. How we find comfort, how we face our fears and our deaths.

“Black Economic Inequality: #RACEMatters” May 9, 2020


May 09, 20202

Guest: Dr. Touré F. Reed, Professor of History and Author of “Toward Freedom: The Case Against Race Reductionism”

10 PM EDT – Live & Call-In  Listen or Call – In (347) 838-9852
Tune In Here:  

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Dr. Touré F. Reed earned his BA in American Studies from Hampshire College (Amherst, MA), and his PhD in History from Columbia University (New York, NY). He is a fourth generation African American educator and third generation professor. Having spent his formative years in South West Atlanta, GA and New Haven, CT, Dr. Reed’s research interests center on race, class, and inequality.
Specifically, Professor Reed’s research focuses on the impact of race and class ideologies on African American civil rights politics and US public policy from the Progressive Era through the Presidency of Barack Obama.

Dr. Reed is the author of Not Alms But Opportunity: The Urban League and the Politics of Racial Uplift, 1910-1950, (UNC Chapel Hill Press, 2008) and the recently published Toward Freedom: The Case Against Race Reductionism (Verso Books, 2020). He is also co-author of Renewing Black Intellectual History: The Ideological and Material Foundations of Black American Thought (Paradigm Publishers, 2009).
His articles have appeared in the Journal of American Ethnic History, LABOR,, Catalyst,, Jacobin, the New Republic, and the Nation.

Dr. Reed has received numerous grants and fellowships including the prestigious Kluge Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Library of Congress in support of a book in progress titled New Deal Civil Rights: Class Politics and the Quest for Racial Equality, 1933-1948.

ABOUT the Book

“Toward Freedom: The Case Against Race Reductionism”

Examines the fate of poor and working-class African Americans-who are unquestionably represented among neoliberalism’s victims-is inextricably linked to that of other poor and working-class Americans

Reed contends that the road to a more just society for African Americans and everyone else is obstructed, in part, by a discourse that equates entrepreneurialism with freedom and independence. This, ultimately, insists on divorcing race and class. In the age of runaway inequality and Black Lives Matter, there is an emerging consensus that our society has failed to redress racial disparities. The culprit, however, is not the sway of a metaphysical racism or the modern survival of a primordial tribalism. Instead, it can be traced to far more comprehensible forces, such as the contradictions in access to New Deal era welfare programs, the blinders imposed by the Cold War, and Ronald Reagan’s neoliberal assault on the half-century long Keynesian consensus.

Guilty Pleas in Mississippi Hate Murder Case

Horrific hate crime that prompted SPLC lawsuit in Mississippi concludes with final guilty pleas

It was a vicious hate crime that shocked the country – a black man in Jackson, Mississippi, attacked by a group of white teens and killed when he was deliberately run down by a pickup truck.

Captured by a motel security camera and broadcast on CNN, the murder of 47-year-old James C. Anderson in June 2011 prompted an SPLC lawsuit against the seven teens involved. That case ended with a confidential settlement.

This week, the criminal case came to an end when two men – John L. Blalack, 20, and Robert H. Rice, 24 – became the last of 10 defendants to plead guilty in connection with Anderson’s murder and other, earlier hate crimes against African Americans in Jackson. Convicted under the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, they each face up to 10 years in prison.

“This case was a sickening reminder of the consequences of racism and hate,” said SPLC Founder Morris Dees. “James Anderson was brutally murdered for no other reason than the color of his skin. And the lives of these young people have been ruined. As a nation, we must work even harder to confront the legacy of white supremacism that continues to haunt us.”

In 2012, Deryl Paul Dedmon, 22, the driver of the truck that ran over Anderson and the alleged ringleader of the group, pleaded guilty to murder and hate crime charges. He was sentenced to life in prison after Anderson’s family urged the prosecutor to not seek the death penalty.

In court yesterday, according to The ClarionLedger, Blalack admitted that he and the others had cruised the streets of Jackson, which they called “Jafrica,” on at least 10 occasions to harass and attack African Americans. On one trip, they beat a man near a golf course until he begged for his life.

On the night of June 25, 2011, seven of them left a party in nearby Puckett, armed with beer bottles to throw. Sometime after midnight, they found Anderson, an autoworker and the lead tenor in his church choir, in a motel parking lot. One of the teens knocked him to the ground as the assault began. One reportedly shouted “white power” during the attack.

Blalack recounted how he left the scene with three others and later received a phone call from Dedmon saying, “I just runned that n—-r over.” He said he returned to see people huddled around Anderson’s body.

Anderson, who worked at a nearby Nissan plant, was described by U.S. Attorney Gregory Davis as a “wonderful human being” and loving family man – “a father, a son who called his mother every morning, a brother and a partner.”

Others who pleaded guilty earlier were John Aaron Rice, 21; Dylan Wade Butler, 23; Jonathan Kyle Gaskamp, 22; and Joseph Paul Dominick, 23, all from Brandon; William Kirk Montgomery, 25, from Puckett; Shelbie Brooke Richards, 21, from Pearl; and Sarah Adelia Graves, 21, from Crystal Springs.


The Southern Poverty Law Center is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy, the Center works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality. Founded by civil rights lawyers Morris Dees and Joseph Levin Jr. in 1971, the SPLC is internationally known for tracking and exposing the activities of hate groups. Our innovative Teaching Tolerance program produces and distributes – free of charge – documentary films, books, lesson plans and other materials that promote tolerance and respect in our nation’s schools. We are based in Montgomery, Ala., the birthplace of the modern civil rights movement, and have offices in Atlanta, New Orleans, Miami, Fla., and Jackson, Miss.

OCG Freedom Note >> Thinking About Black History Month 2014

Runoko Rashidi

“Our history and culture is our immune system.”
–Marimba Ani

Copy (2) of bl_hist_logoThinking About Black History Month 2014

According to whether or not the year leaps or not, February 28th marks the end of what should always be a national celebration of the achievements and contributions made by African-Americans in America – National Black History Month. Despite slavery, government imposed oppressive conditions under which they were made and the lack of routine appropriate vehicles of credit and recordkeeping for tremendous accomplishments, and efforts of denial, it is clear that African-Americans have lifted America in extraordinary ways. In education, politics, science and arts, literature and philosophy there is no absence of an abundance of achievement by our people.  Every American or foreign visitor has experienced our footprint and infusion of cultural richness in the short and painful time of our existence in this nation.

The extraordinary people, inventions, music, dance, art and thoughts of our people recorded or passed along orally are treasures that we all share. Black History Month has become a tradition.  I was a young girl when it was still Black History Week and the only public acknowledgement was within segregated schools and communities, and Black publications. Growing up Black in the South the facts and episodes of our history, the people, their images and their oration was made sacred by my parents, grandparents and people in our community. People like Ida B. Wells, Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson and W.E.B. DuBois were honored and familiar visitors at our breakfast and dinner table. My Mother spoke of the women and for such a long time, I really thought that they were her friends who lived elsewhere.  My Father spoke bleeding his expression with the words of dead men, Carver, Garvey and Douglas recalling their words as though they had relayed them directly to him. Telling the tales of a Harlem in Renaissance, of a budding Malcolm and the lives women crooners named Billie, Sarah who sang with  the Duke, and laughed with Dizzy and Louie. My Dad danced the Savoy and lounged the Paradise and boldly breathed the air of Black progress and pain.  The books, the authors, required and yearned for, bought, shared and placed on shelves for prosperity.  The speeches learned and kept close to the heart.  The people, and the events that they recalled was  testimony validating and affirming the character of the lives of Black folks. Enumerating Black worth in America and checking the validity of the equation.  An account so carefully recorded- a burden so deftly carried. Black people waiting for the Pittsburgh Courier and the Ebony magazine for assurance that they were real.

03-1 2black history So many years later, I not only seek our history to bind my life, but see into it as I navigate forward. This is what we do during this month of February. We raise it up, make it a sacred light illuminating the pathways of our future. It makes us real in the universe, assured that we will always have a special brand of hope which is ours and ours alone. All through the year, we must spend our time putting our lives, the echo of who we are into the record, sorting it and ordering it to build the bridges that will take us safely across.

Thanks for joining with us at OUR COMMON GROUND, or supporting our efforts at OUR COMMON GROUND to honor the ritual to lift up the journal of the Black experience in America. #HistoryMatters

Janice Graham

OUR COMMON GROUND Media & Communications

TruthWorks Network Radio


4 Amazing Black Women They Don’t Tell You About in School l AlterNet

4 Amazing Black Women They Don’t Tell You About in School

It’s doubtful that the names Elizabeth “Mum Bett” Freeman, Callie House, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin or Johnnie Tillmon even draw a glint of recognition but they should.
March 17, 2013 |

As with Black History Month, the focus on already well-known figures has been an ongoing criticism of Woman’s History Month. When it comes to black women, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells and Rosa Parks are on repeat. What makes these much-needed theme months thrive, however, is the spirit of discovery. It’s doubtful that the names Elizabeth “Mum Bett” Freeman, Callie House, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin or Johnnie Tillmon even draw a glint of recognition but they should. In their own ways, each of these women made important contributions to the ongoing struggle for freedom and justice.

Even as a slave, Elizabeth Freeman, known as Mum Bett most of her life, had the audacity to sue for her freedom. Born into slavery in Claverack, New York around 1742, Freeman, at a reported six months old, was sold, along with her sister, to John Ashley of Sheffield, Massachusetts, a judge in the Massachusetts Court of Common Pleas. Enslaved to Ashley until she was almost 40, Freeman was spurred to action when the mistress of the house Hannah Ashley tried to hit her sister with a heated kitchen shovel. Freeman intervened and was hit instead, leaving the house, vowing to never come back.

Aware of the 1780 Massachusetts state constitution and its declaration of all men being free and equal from Sheffield’s many conversations, Freeman sought the services of Theodore Sedgwick, an attorney with anti-slavery sentiments. In 1781, a Massachusetts court awarded Freeman and another of Ashley’s slaves named Brom their freedom in Brom and Bett v. J. Ashley, Esq., even requiring Ashley to pay damages.

This set a major civil rights precedent. W.E.B. DuBois even claimed Freeman, who adopted the name after her legal victory, as his maternal great-grandmother – even though this connection was by marriage – as she was such an important figure to him. Freeman passed away in 1829.

Born into privilege in Boston in 1842, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin used her education and background to uplift black women. Married at age sixteen to George Lewis Ruffin (who would later become Harvard Law School’s first black male graduate, the first African-American elected to the Massachusetts state legislature and to the Boston City Council, and the first African-American municipal judge in Boston), Ruffin, a suffragist, helped Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone form the American Woman Suffrage Association in Boston in 1869. After her husband’s death in 1884, Ruffin, also a journalist and early member of the New England Women’s Press Association, became even more active, launching Women’s Era, believed to be the nation’s first newspaper published by and for black women, serving as editor and publisher from 1890 to 1897.

With her daughter, Florida Ruffin Ridley, and Boston principal, Maria Baldwin, she launched the New Era Club for black women in either 1893 or 1894 depending on the source. In 1895, Ruffin helped organize the National Federation of Afro-American Women, convening its first national conference in Boston attended by 100 women representing 20 clubs in 10 states. A year later, in 1896, the organization merged with the Colored Women’s League to form the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs.

Although a member of several white women’s clubs, Ruffin advocated for black women as a suffragist. She rejected recognition as a delegate at a major conference in 1900, for example, because organizers only sought to confer the role due to her membership in several prominent white women’s clubs. Instead, Ruffin chose to stand up for the validity of black women’s clubs like her own New Era.

Active in other areas, Ruffin was also a founding member of the Boston branch of the NAACP. She passed away in 1924 at age 81.

Callie House, born Callie Guy in slaveholding Rutherford County, Tennessee in 1861, is still relatively unknown, despite the book about her lifeMy Face Is Black Is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations by Mary Frances Berry. But House, a laundress operating out of Nashville in the 1890s, is an important figure in the reparations movement.

In 1894, House, along with Isaiah Dickerson, who had worked with white political activist William Vaughn around reparations in Omaha, Nebraska, organized the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty, and Pension Association. Open to all, the Ex-Slave Pension Association, working nationally and locally, filled the void of the Freedmen’s Bureau, providing burial services as well as care for the sick and disabled to its membership in addition to advocating for legislation for ex-slave pensions.

Because of her success, House became a target. In 1899, the U.S. Post Office, emboldened by theComstock Act of 1873, issued a fraud order against House and the Ex-Slave Pension Association. Continued federal intimidation forced House to step down as assistant secretary of the Ex-Slave Pension Association in 1902 but did not stop her from organizing more local chapters throughout the South. The wind left her sail, however, when Alabama Congressman Edmund Petus’s reparations legislation failed in 1903.

Pressing on, however, House worked with attorney Cornelius Jones and sued the Treasury Department for just over $68 million in cotton taxes tied to slave labor in Texas, but the case they filed in 1915 was ultimately dismissed. In 1916, House and other Ex-Slave Pension Association officers were indicted for allegedly using the postal service to defraud ex-slaves by promising that pensions and reparations were forthcoming. Convicted by an all-white, all-male jury, House was sentenced to a year and one day which she served in a Missouri penitentiary from November 1917 to August 1918, obtaining an early release for good behavior. Returning to Nashville as a laundress, House died ten years later, but her pioneering and early contributions to the reparations movement should not be forgotten.

Born the daughter of an Arkansas sharecropper in 1926, Johnnie Tillmon never let lack stop her. Leaving her first husband in Arkansas for California, with her children in tow, Tillmon, who did not have a high school education, found herself on welfare where she learned first-hand of indignities — such as welfare inspectors rummaging through refrigerators and showing up at midnight to catch male company — that women suffered. Through anonymous letters, Tillmon organized more than 300 of her Watts housing project neighbors in protest in 1963, leading to the formation of the Aid to Needy Children-Mothers Anonymous shortly thereafter, which later inspired the creation of the National Welfare Rights Organization—an organization that one-time boasted over 25,000 members, mostly black women. Tillmon Blackston served as Executive Director starting in 1972 until the organization’s demise in 1974.

Tillmon injected the particular rights and concerns of poor black women into the national feminist and civil rights dialogue. In the pivotal essay “Welfare is a Women’s Issue,” published in Ms. magazine in 1972, Tillmon argued that because 99 percent of families on Aid to Families with Dependent Children were headed by women, welfare was indeed a women’s issue. In addition, she brought attention to issues of birth control and the sterilization of poor black women, as well as the economic exploitation of poorly educated women. She even called then-California Governor Ronald Reagan out for referring to welfare recipients as “lazy parasites.”

In a time when it was posh to bash the so-called black welfare queen, Tillmon, who passed away in 1995 at age 69, pushed back, dedicating her life in various capacities to bringing much-needed awareness to the struggles of poor black women.

Tillmon’s contributions, as well as those of Elizabeth Freeman, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and Callie House, may be unsung today — but there is no denying that each of these women played more than their part in uplifting their race and their gender, as well as in elevating the moral standard by which all human beings cooperating in a humane society should be measured.

Phoenix Forum Hosts Panel Discussion on Post-Blackness

Phoenix Forum Hosts Panel Discussion on Post-Blackness

English: Photograph of the African American Fl...

English: Photograph of the African American Flag by David Hammons as flown at The Studio Museum in Harlem on 125th Street in Harlem, New York I took the picture June 1, 2007 Use Rationale Example of notable artist’s work. Notable example shows some of the artist’s major themes. Notable example shows artist’s relationship with city and neighborhood in question. Example of notable derivativedesign for U.S. flag. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today is the last day of Black History Month 2013, and it ended with a plethora of events in Harlem. One of them was the panel discussion on the concept of “post-Blackness” held. This panel was the second event of the year for thePhoenix Forum, and it went extremely well. It was a pleasure to serve as moderator for the event. Our featured panelists were Nicholle LaVann, an award winning filmmaker, Ali McBride, an activist and motivational speaker, and scholar Guesnerth Perea.

This was a lively discussion, and many things came up. From definitions of African American, to media images, to the cultural appropriation that we often witness. I want to say thank you to our panelists for bringing the content, and our audience for coming out to show support. For those of you who missed our panel, a recording was made. As to when it will be available, we will keep you informed. This was a great send off for Black History Month, and everyone who participated brought some serious food for thought to the table. Peace and good night!

Marc W. Polite


Santa Clausifying Martin Luther King, Jr. l David Sirota

Santa Clausifying Martin Luther King, Jr.

 Feb 1, 2013

King statue
Kelly Branan

By David Sirota

Every year, right around the time between Martin Luther King Day and the beginning of Black History Month, the effort to distort Dr. King’s life and legacy seems to intensify. Some years, we see conservatives preposterously assert that if Dr. King were alive today, he would join today’s neo-confederate Republican Party. Other years, it is deception via omission—we see replays of Dr. King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, but do not see any of his speeches about war and poverty.

Princeton professor Cornel West accurately labels all this the “Santa Clausification” of Dr. King, and if you have ever heard or read a snippet of King’s 1967 Riverside Church speech, you will understand how apt the label is. You will also understand why this year’s most grotesque attempt to Santa Clausify Dr. King’s life is at once abhorrent and yet somewhat encouraging.

As The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald first reported, the United States Air Force’s Global Strike Command last week posted an online essay saying that Dr. King would cheer on soldiers “ensuring the most powerful weapons in the U.S. arsenal remain the credible bedrock of our national defense.” Further, claimed the Air Force, “maintaining our commitment to our Global Strike team … is a fitting tribute to Dr. King.”

At the same time, the U.S. Marines commemorated Martin Luther King Day by tweeting out a famous King line—“a man who won’t die for something is not fit to live”—in a not-so-subtle attempt to depict him as a war supporter. That was a follow-up to a 2011 article posted on the Defense Department’s website with the headline: “King Might Understand Today’s Wars, Pentagon Lawyer Says.”

That gets us to the special relevance of the Riverside Church speech—the one that the Santa Clausifying Pentagon so obviously wants suppressed.

In that oratory, America’s most famous preacher of nonviolence deplored “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” He argued that militarism is not the way to protect America and decried “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today—my own government.” And he insisted that “there is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.”

Comparing the Pentagon’s historical revisionism with King’s words, Greenwald says: “The U.S. military is actually publicly claiming that the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner and steadfast critic of U.S. imperialism would be an admirer of its massive stockpile of nuclear weapons, its global assassination programs and its covert use of violence in multiple countries around the world, including where no wars are declared. Merely to describe this agitprop is to illustrate its repulsiveness.”

He’s absolutely right, but in that repulsiveness there is a promising revelation from a political system in which lies signal desperation.

In this particular case, the Pentagon’s willingness to so boldly lie about Dr. King betrays its desperation to reverse accelerating public opinion trends. Specifically, Pentagon spinmeisters seem to realize that, according to polls, more Americans are raising King-like questions about our government’s profligate defense spending and its attempts to preference militarism over other priorities.

This suggests that for all the propaganda attempting to Santa Clausify Dr. King and make us forget what he was all about, we may, in fact, be starting to honor Dr. King’s legacy.

That’s no excuse for the propaganda, of course—but it is a promising sign that we may actually be closer than ever to realizing Dr. King’s dream.

David Sirota is the best-selling author of the books “Hostile Takeover,” “The Uprising” and “Back to Our Future.” Email him at, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at