Joshua Daniel Phillips
graduate student in speech communication from Normal
As we near the end of Black History Month, I write with a sense of urgency that challenges us all to think beyond February and recognize how each of our histories are intrinsically linked to the histories of black women all year long. As a white man, I cannot ignore that my humanity is intrinsically linked to the humanity of women such as Dorothy Height, Jo Ann Robinson, Coretta Scott King, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Recy Taylor, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Gloria Jean Watkins, whose pen name was “bell hooks.”
My history is black history. My history is women’s history. Black history is American history, and the success of America is predicated on the recognizing, the learning and the educating of all our histories.
For example, we have always asked important questions about the role of black leaders such as Dr. King. I love Dr. King, but we must remember that it was Ella Baker who was organizing folks in the street. Ella Baker was the one who mobilized the marches and the movements once Dr. King and other men had left town. Ella Baker is the one who taught John Lewis how to lead the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee over that bridge on Bloody Sunday in 1965 in Selma, Ala.
And when we remember Malcolm X proclaiming “by any means necessary,” we need to remember it was Fannie Lou Hamer in 1964 who testified in front of the Democratic National Convention that she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Hamer was a sharecropper from Ruleville, Miss., who sat in front of the most powerful white men in the country and demanded her right to vote and to be treated as a human being.
And let us make no mistake. There would no President Obama without the 1972 Presidential Campaign of Shirley Chisholm, the first black person to hold a major party candidacy on the Democratic ticket — who just four years prior, became the first black woman elected to Congress.
It is so important that we know these women, read their work and value their contributions daily.
Celebratory months are a beautiful thing. Yet, we should never be so complacent as to believe that one month per year is sufficient when recognizing the significance of black women. People exist year-round. Take the time to learn about them.
I applaud all of those who helped create a meaningful Black History Month this year that focused on the lives of black women. The real challenge will be how we continue to respect and honor those narratives tomorrow, next week, next month and all year round.