Why in 2021, My Soul Needs Black History Month
By Jeralyn Cave, Senior Communications Associate
My hope, strained across the trauma of the last four years, is the very reason my soul needs Black History Month this year.
In 1893, Ida B. Wells published an epic anti-lynching pamphlet drafted in collaboration with Frederick Douglass and others titled The Reason why the Colored American is Not in the World's Columbian Exposition. In it, Douglass listed 22 things he wished to be true of America but were not. Among them were:
- that American liberty was in the undisputed possession of all the American people;
- that American law shield Blacks and whites alike;
- that the statement of human rights contained in the Declaration of Independence, including the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was not an empty boast nor a mere rhetorical flourish;
- that Negroes were not tortured, shot, hanged or burned to death, merely on suspicion of crime and without ever seeing a judge, a jury or advocate;
- and that the American Government was in reality a Government of the people, by the people and for the people, and for all the people.
One hundred and twenty-eight years later, and I – a Black woman – still wish these things to be true. My hope, strained across the trauma of the last four years, is the very reason my soul needs Black History Month this year.
When I say that my soul needs Black History Month this year, what I mean is that I have an acute need to go back and remember who my people are. Not that I have forgotten, but I need to find solace in what they overcame. I need to regain strength by remembering what they accomplished against all odds. I need to regain some hope by gazing at the beauty their hands created.
What I mean is that the very act of remembering is one thing I am actively doing to heal in 2021. It is one thing I am doing to hope against despair. To “hope against hope.”
In reflecting on the January 6 riots in which pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, I realized how fitting Douglass’ 1893 writings were. He aptly observed that “the perceived loss of that power drove [white] men now to lynch mobs and killings.” While the nation may have turned a corner with the inauguration of a new administration, the fact that white supremacists so easily tossed democracy aside when it advanced their cause still gives me pause.
And while a multi-racial coalition attempts to hold the new administration accountable – of which I will be a part – I will also be over here, celebrating a super charged and super Black, Black History Month.
- I will be listening to all the Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone, Buddy Guy, Bill Withers, Etta James, and Mahalia Jackson.
- I will be reading all the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Nikky Finney, Lucille Clifton, and Tracy K. Smith.
- I will be attending Advancement Project National Office’s first Black History Month event, Black Resilience in the Time of Bullsh*t, on Thursday, February 4 from 6-8 p.m. ET. RSVP to attend here.
Why? Because my soul needs the therapy. And Black History is therapy to my soul.