By Kathleen Harmon
Jonathan Goetz and Robert Grand also contributed to this article
People ask me when African-American History Month began.
It used to be called Negro History Week, before it was turned into an entire month. Carter G. Woodson, “Father of black history,” picked the second week of February as a special time for history, art and culture from an Africana point of view. The week was chosen because a lot of black families and friends already celebrated the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and escaped slave Fredrick Douglas together around Lincoln’s birthday.
I really began celebrating Black History in my 30’s, during Lyndon Baines Johnson’s presidency. “Brains,” as some of us called him, signed the Civil Rights Act, the Clean Air Act, the Voting Rights Act, and created Medicare and Medicaid, all of which are currently under attack.
Just recently, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Blacks in Alabama, who make up a quarter of the state’s population, to be proportionately represented with two strong Black Congressional seats instead of keeping as many together in the one district so only one out of seven Congressional seats is exclusively African American, instead of potentially two predominantly African American seats, which would be more appropriate given the ratio.
In 1965, President Johnson issued Executive Order 11246, requiring all government contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action to expand job opportunities for people of color and those with diminished socioeconomic status. We now have another President who has taken up this fight. One of President Biden’s campaign pledges was to appoint a Black woman to the United States Supreme Court.
Today, February 25, 2022, Biden took further steps to fulfill that promise by nominating Ketanji Brown Jackson, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge on the D.C. Circuit Court, for Supreme Court Justice, to succeed Justice Stephen Breyer. Once confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Judge Jackson will become the first Black woman on the Supreme Court, making good on a Biden pledge that helped him win South Carolina and eventually the nomination. In like spirit Biden selected former Prosecutor, District Attorney, Attorney General, U.S. Senator and now Vice-President, Kamala Harris, as his running-mate.
I remember watching Jackie Robinson, the first Black major league baseball player, on a black and white TV; now that’s history. But we were more excited about our cousin Jesse Owens, “arguably the most popular American track and field star in history,” according to IMDb.
My family owned a lot of property near Owens before the KKK, according to the History Channel, turned into “a paramilitary force bent on reversing the federal government’s progressive Reconstruction era-activities in the South, especially policies that elevated the rights of the local Black population.” But my family has been able to keep the large farm because, despite all the efforts to chase us out or buy our land, my mom’s parents wanted that it be passed down from generation to generation in perpetuity.
We raised our own cattle and cured meats. We had acres and acres. I think it’s important for Black people today to know that there were a lot of successful Black people in the South before so many of our gains were wiped out about 100 years ago. We got some rights back in the 1960’s, when we could finally at least use a public bathroom according to theory, even if not in practice. Many rights are mandated by the federal government but not honored in the South. My cousin’s Olympic Gold Medals, they threw him a parade in New York, but then when he came to the South he wasn’t allowed to display it in downtown, because he was Black.
We fought so hard to get the rights we deserve. We marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama, and stayed peaceful while White mobs pelted us with stones. We continue to endure harsh indignities as we claim our rightful place in our democracy.
Right now, in Black History Month 2022, many of our young men are losing their right to vote even after they’ve served their time, maps that give us a 1:1 better voting power aren’t being enforced by the Supreme Court, and even in California our universities are losing the right to let in a people whose great-grandparents were brought to this country in chains, grandparents were regularly beaten, raped and killed, and parents were educated in segregated Black schools, from receiving a leg up in college admissions.
However, although there are setbacks, as Dr. King once said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
You can find Queen Kathleen earlier this April 2022: