As we come to the end of Black History Month (BHM) 2010, I wonder how many of you who are descendants of enslaved Africans chose not to participate? If you are one of those folks, I wonder if you have subconsciously fallen victim to the subtle but strong underlying current of a message that has been permeating the airwaves of late. It is a message that began shortly after President Obama’s election, as if that occurrence had miraculously converted America into a post-racial society.
Many of us have heard the jokes about how BHM is the shortest month of the year from those who are too ignorant of their own history to learn why February is the month dedicated to celebrate our history. Add in that the major media has done an excellent job over the past couple of decades focusing their and our attention solely on Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech along with an obligatory tossing in of Rosa Parks and a sprinkling of everything else, and it’s no wonder many have come to see BHM in the narrowest of terms – as if the month were a side salad to the meal as opposed to a never-ending buffet.
But in all of my 56 years on this earth, rarely have I heard so many questioning if BHM is still relevant or should even continue to be acknowledged. At first the question was a whisper. But by mid-month, I had Garrard McClendon of CLTV asking, both on his Facebook page and on the air, if BHM was still relevant. Even sadder, Monique Caradine, former host at WVON 1690-AM responded, “Black History Month is played out like 8 tracks and Afros.”
The smugness of those who are dismissive regarding BHM is comparable to those who feel they have “made it” as they sit in comfortable jobs and go home to houses in the suburbs. They attribute their success to hard work with nary a though of the many maids and janitors who took a stance against legalized racism so those same young folks can have what they have today.
I got a chance last Sunday to meet some of the men who stood up to legalized racism in this country. In 1941, then-President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 which allowed African Americans to join the Marines. When they went to basic training, they didn’t go to the Marine training base at Camp Lejeune. Instead, a segregated base was built next door at Montford Point (now named Camp Johnson). There between the years 1942-1949, those men became some of the first African-American Marines to undergo basic training. They trained under segregated circumstances while being subjected to the racism of both the military in which they served and the City of Jacksonville, N.C. Then they were sent off to fight and die in WWII and other conflicts.
I had never heard of the Montford Point Marines prior to the event I attended. Their story is yet another dish at the Black History buffet that we cannot allow the younger generation or anyone else to summarily dismiss. The sacrifices of those black Marines to a country that didn’t allow them 100 percent participation are immeasurable. Before the last of them die, we can do something to place a value on their contribution. That is to make sure the last surviving members who trained at Montford Point receive a Gold Medal from the U.S. Congress.
There are currently two bills before Congress. One is HR3927 for the House of Representatives; S1695 is the corresponding Senate version. Our two Illinois senators, Burris and Durbin have supported the Senate bill. Now we need everyone from all over the country to write, e-mail or fax their Congressional representatives and their senators to demand that those men who served, fought and died for this country be recognized for their valor. A medal is a small price to pay to honor the men whose service to this country wasn’t in vain.