American Black History is over 400 years old. I think this fact gets lost during our Black History Month celebrations. Black History, in this land, is older than America itself. Our story is inextricably woven into what America has become and will forever be. It is important to remember that.
I had the pleasure of teaching a history lesson to 4th graders last semester about rights and how those rights, although granted, had to be enforced and protected. For instance, the 15th Amendment to the Constitution gave Black men the right to vote and the 19th Amendment gave Black women the right to vote. However, that right was denied to many Black American citizens. The Voting Rights Act was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to enforce that right. Yet, efforts to disenfranchise voters have continued until today.
When the Supreme Court ruled that the Plessy v. Ferguson decision was unconstitutional in the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954, they acknowledged that the “equal protection clause” in the 14th Amendment means that “separate-but-equal” public school accommodations were fundamentally illegal.
However, when the Little Rock Nine attempted to integrate Central High School, they had to be escorted into the school by the 101st Airborne Division to ensure their safe passage in the face of angry mobs both outside and inside the school. They were literally being protected by weapons as the federal court order to integrate the schools was being enforced.
What a peculiar position: laws have been written to guarantee rights, yet those rights must be reinforced with a layer of enforcement and another layer of protection before they can be exercised. Why all the fuss?
Despite our celebration of all the triumphs over all the efforts to keep us subjugated, please remember that we are more than all the great people with their great accomplishments. We are people who want a joyful life and a peaceful existence, just like everyone else. Our simple desire now is no different than the one had by Angela, the enslaved woman who arrived in Virginia over 400 years ago.