Black History Month offers chance to learn

February is Black History Month. It’s a chance to remind the nation of the advances that have been made. It’s not just about civil rights, but about justice — the justice that comes from deserved recognition.

Black History Month’s roots go back to the 1920s, when Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the son of former slaves, earned his doctorate from Harvard. He noticed that history books of the day virtually ignored black Americans.

Rather than complain, Woodson worked to change the situation. He founded the Journal of Negro History in 1926 and launched Negro History Week during the second week of February. He chose that week to honor the birthdays of two men who deeply affected racial relations in America: President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Black History Month honors the great Civil Rights Movement leaders of the mid-20th century, from Rosa Parks who chose to make a stand by not giving up her seat on a bus to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who articulated the dream of a nation where all have equal opportunities.

African-American athletes and celebrities are easy for most Americans to honor and to remember.

But Black History Month is about so many more people and so many more events. It’s about businessmen and women, inventors, attorneys, mothers, fathers and the countless people who serve as important and respected members of every community in the nation.

It’s about memories, the good and the bad. It’s about accepting the past as past, but noting that despite obstacles, African-Americans have achieved, overcome and persevered.

From slaves brought against their will to the United States to their descendants who were told in later years that they couldn’t sleep in certain hotels or eat at the lunch counter with whites, it’s about heritage. It’s about recognizing that conditions have improved, but that there is still work to do.

Black History Month provides an opportunity for recognition and acceptance that, warts and all, American history is steeped in the history of black America. It’s a chance to focus on the positive achievements and struggles and to maintain that focus on reaching a day when togetherness and harmony are not split by racial lines.

For the lessons of the past can open the minds and hearts of today’s generations to achieve a greater future.