A need not yet filled

Every now and then the editors and reporters here still get handwritten or typed correspondence by mail, rather than email. It seems so much easier these days to save a stamp and time by just hitting the “Send” button, but many of our readers still put pen to paper.

Earlier this week, I got a letter from Marietta resident Richard Beck with the subject line: “African American History Month February 2016.”

Beck went on to list a number of subjects that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution should consider in its Black History Month coverage.

Initially, I set the letter aside and added to my to-do list a note to call Beck, thank him for the letter and tell him about some of the things we were doing as a news organization to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans.

Moments after putting Beck’s letter down, AJC videographer Ryon Horne walked into my office with a look on his face somewhere between disgust and shock. When I asked what was wrong, he asked if I’d seen the comments on our AJC Facebook page in response to an ongoing series of Black History Month videos that we have posted across some of our social media channels.

The videos are part of a series called "29 reasons to celebrate Black History Month." They focus mostly on the direct contributions of some African-Americans but they also feature others such as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former The Atlanta Constitution editor and publisher Ralph McGill, who wrote about the failures of segregation in the late 1930s.

“You gotta see the back and forth,” said Ryon. “The videos are getting good views, but I can’t believe some of the stuff people are saying.”

I stopped what I was doing to read them for myself. I wasn’t at all shocked by what I read, but I was moved by the comments.

Here are some, as they appeared in response to a video in our series about Shirley Chisholm:

“Why not let every month be Black History…and white history…and brown history…and Asian history…why not just study it all together and be inclusive…just saying…”

“How about American history and include the black stories! STOP THE DIVISION…”

“Black History was created because it was never included in American and World History.”

“Can we have a white history month, a white miss America and white entertainment TV? You know just to be fair…”

“Love this! Black History shouldn’t just be celebrated in one month but all year ‘round! Thank you for this!”

“This is so racist!”

“When we have a black history month and nobody makes negative comments about it we will no longer need a black history month.”

The debate between our Facebook audience, mostly likely people who have never met and know nothing about each other’s lives, shook me. I mean this was a video about Shirley Chisholm.

Did the people arguing against the need for Black History Month even watch the 30-second video? As the video states, in 1972, Chisholm was the first woman from the Democratic Party to run for President of the United States. In 2015, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I wondered why sharing this bit of history led to a debate on the need for Black History Month?

I wanted to engage. I wanted to know if the opinions were spread along generational lines. I wanted to explain and I wanted explanations. I wondered how something with such good intentions could become debatable. How could this elicit such a response? But, again, I wasn’t really surprised. Matters of race have always dominated and permeated our society.

I read the comments for the perspective they represented, but I searched internally for my own point of view. On one hand I wanted to respond, “hell yeah we still need to celebrate Black History Month.” On the other hand, I wished that the history and contributions of African-Americans were so recognized that there was no longer a need to designate February as such. Like others, my hope is that it’s celebrated year-round.

Appearing on "Fox & Friends" last month, actress and former Fox News contributor Stacey Dash was beaten with heavy criticism and became a trending topic on social media after she said "there shouldn't be a Black History Month."

“We’re Americans. Period. That’s it,” said Dash.

Some would argue Dash raised a good point. But to Dash and anyone who thinks like her, I say yes indeed we are Americans, but that’s not a reason to discard a month set aside to recognize the contributions of black Americans in this country. Hello. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to celebrate it.

As for me and my house, I will celebrate Black History Month in my own way. I also will fill in the gaps of education my daughter may not get in school about this and other topics. My thoughts are rooted in the fact that I’m an African-American woman and I know without a doubt that I would not be where I am today were it not for those before me. I joyfully, humbly and dutifully honor and celebrate those who are a part of the history that makes up who I am today in all regards. I do it in February and all year long.

Black History Month is a time for people to celebrate the rich traditions of black people.

It’s a time to correct misunderstandings and misrepresentations of black culture.

It’s the time when a group of people can come together in memory of the pieces of their past that might have been hidden or historically taken for granted.

It’s a time for younger generations to learn about their past.

It promotes opportunities for dialogue and interactions between many cultures.

It can lead to a better understanding and appreciation for what experiences and daily dilemmas each of us goes through.

I decided to call Richard Beck, whose letter on my desk was staring me in the face.

Beck, retired after 25 years in the New York City Police Department, summed it up like this: “Someone needs to tell the story because no one is telling it. Everyone needs to know more about the unknown. There are heroes in our past beyond sports and music. Our kids need to hear about these heroes.”

Like our AJC and myAJC Facebook pages to view our Black History Month video series. Find out more about local Black History Month events at events.accessatlanta.com/blackhistory.