Black History Month: The Need Remains … a repost


Lonnie Bunch, museum director, historian, lecturer, and author, is proud to present A Page from Our American Story, a regular on-line series for Museum supporters. It will showcase individuals and events in the African American experience, placing these stories in the context of a larger story — our American story.A Page From Our American StoryEditor’s Note: This edition of A Page from Our American Story was originally a speech made by Lonnie Bunch. It is reprinted here in its entirety.Knowing the Past Opens the Door to the Future
The Continuing Importance of Black History Month

Carter Woodson,
father of Black
History Month,
was commemorated
by the United States
Postal Service with
a stamp in his
image on
February 1, 1984.

No one has played a greater role in helping all Americans know the black past than Carter G. Woodson, the individual who created Negro History Week in Washington, D.C., in February 1926.

Woodson was the second black American to receive a PhD in history from Harvard — following W.E.B. DuBois by a few years. To Woodson, the black experience was too important simply to be left to a small group of academics. Woodson believed that his role was to use black history and culture as a weapon in the struggle for racial uplift. By 1916, Woodson had moved to DC and established the “Association for the Study of Negro Life and Culture,” an organization whose goal was to make black history accessible to a wider audience. Woodson was a strange and driven man whose only passion was history, and he expected everyone to share his passion.

This impatience led Woodson to create Negro History Week in 1926, to ensure that school children be exposed to black history. Woodson chose the second week of February in order to celebrate the birthday of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It is important to realize that Negro History Week was not born in a vacuum. The 1920s saw the rise in interest in African American culture that was represented by the Harlem Renaissance where writers like Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglass Johnson, Claude McKay — wrote about the joys and sorrows of blackness, and musicians like Louie Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Jimmy Lunceford captured the new rhythms of the cities created in part by the thousands of southern blacks who migrated to urban centers like Chicago. And artists like Aaron Douglass, Richard Barthe, and Lois Jones created images that celebrated blackness and provided more positive images of the African American experience.

Woodson hoped to build upon this creativity and further stimulate interest through Negro History Week. Woodson had two goals. One was to use history to prove to white America that blacks had played important roles in the creation of America and thereby deserve to be treated equally as citizens. In essence, Woodson — by celebrating heroic black figures — be they inventors, entertainers, or soldiers — hoped to prove our worth, and by proving our worth — he believed that equality would soon follow. His other goal was to increase the visibility of black life and history, at a time when few newspapers, books, and universities took notice of the black community, except to dwell upon the negative. Ultimately Woodson believed Negro History Week — which became Black History Month in 1976 — would be a vehicle for racial transformation forever.  Read the full speech now…

All the best,
Lonnie Bunch
Director

 

Jeff Sessions can’t explain why the FBI investigates ‘Black extremists’ but not the KKK


Jeff Sessions and the FBI are making up Black extremist groups to justify surveillance of our protest movements.

Dear Friends,

Jeff Sessions and the FBI are working to undermine Black organizers. Which is why we have been suing the FBI and Homeland Security to release documents demonstrating their years of surveillance and criminalization of our movements.

We can win this case, but we need your help. Lawsuits like this can take months or even years. They’re hoping that we’ll back down before we can win. They’re hoping we run out of resources and money. We can’t let that happen. Will you join the legal fund to fight against anti-Black surveillance and become a sustaining donor?

On Tuesday, Jeff Sessions was intensely grilled by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) about the FBI’s fallacious “Black Identity Extremist” classification – a nonsense term the FBI uses to intentionally conflate Black activists and organizers with dangerous domestic terrorist organizations, like the KKK and violent neo-Nazi groups.1

When asked whether he believes there is an organization of Black people that identify themselves as “Black Identity Extremists” and whether they have committed violence against police officers Sessions invented an unnamed Black group he claims killed four police officers in the last year.2 When asked whether he’s using the “Black Identity Extremist” classification to illegally surveil the movement for Black lives – Sessions refused to comment.

Even though Sessions refuses to come clean about the extent of the government’s anti-Black surveillance, we have the power to force the FBI to answer us through our lawsuit.

Help us win our lawsuit against the FBI and DHS to expose their anti-Black surveillance by becoming a monthly donor. 

Government surveillance of Black organizes serves not only to keep tabs on our people, but also to intimidate from fighting for justice. Surveillance is a tool of fear. It is a tactic to reinforce white supremacy. Again and again, we’ve seen these agencies target activists of color for simply demanding an end to police violence:3

  • In 2015, DHS revealed they had been tracking protesters and attendees of the Funk Music Parade, in Washington, DC and a walk to end breast cancer in a historically Black neighborhood.4 5
  • Before the Republican National Convention last year, the FBI and DHS agents went door-to-door to the homes of Black Lives Matter activists and community organizers in Cleveland, Ohio, to interrogate them about their protest plans.6
  • In 2014, a FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force surveilled a December 2014 BLM protest at the Mall of America.7

The new “Black Identity Extremist” classification will make this surveillance even easier. This surveillance violates the First Amendment, chilling protesters from speaking out, and is eerily reminiscent of the surveillance of the Black Panther Party under FBI’s notorious and illegal COINTELPRO program.

Because of these revelations, in 2016, we decided to file a lawsuit in partnership with the Center for Constitutional Rights after the FBI and DHS refused to disclose documents about their surveillance of people protesting police brutality and racial injustice. Winning this lawsuit will uncover documents that show a long-standing agency culture that criminalizes Black dissent and paints Black protest as a domestic terror or extremist threat.

The “Black Identity Extremist” classification seeks to make being Black and against police violence a crime. But being Black and exercising our right to protest are not crimes, let alone activities that justify being monitored or repressed by counterterrorism units. We have the right to know how and why the federal government is surveilling our constitutionally protected protests of police violence and we will not stop until we get answers and end these illegal tactics.

Help us win our lawsuit against the FBI and DHS to expose their anti-Black surveillance by becoming a monthly donor. 

— Brandi, Rashad, Arisha, Johnny, Evan, Jade, Corina, Chad, Saréya and the rest of the Color Of Change team.

References

1. “‘Jeff Sessions Knows There Are Definitely Black Terror Groups but Can’t Seem to Remember Any White Ones,” Splinter News, 14 November 2017. https://act.colorofchange.org/go/10647?t=18&akid=8179%2E1174326%2EYkw5Dv

2. “Rep. Karen Bass blasts Jeff Sessions over Justice Department report on ‘black identity extremists’,” RawStory, 14 November 2017. https://act.colorofchange.org/go/10648?t=20&akid=8179%2E1174326%2EYkw5Dv

3. “EXCLUSIVE: FEDS REGULARLY MONITORED BLACK LIVES MATTER SINCE FERGUSON,” The Intercept, 24 July 2015. https://act.colorofchange.org/go/5394?t=22&akid=8179%2E1174326%2EYkw5Dv

4. “Homeland Security Is Tracking Black Lives Matter. Is That Legal?,” Mother Jones, 30 July 2015. http://act.colorofchange.org/go/10649?t=24&akid=8179%2E1174326%2EYkw5Dv

5. “EXCLUSIVE: FEDS REGULARLY MONITORED BLACK LIVES MATTER SINCE FERGUSON,” The Intercept, 24 July 2015. https://act.colorofchange.org/go/5394?t=26&akid=8179%2E1174326%2EYkw5Dv

6. “FBI AND POLICE ARE KNOCKING ON ACTIVISTS’ DOORS AHEAD OF REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION,” The Intercept, 23 July 2016. https://act.colorofchange.org/go/10650?t=28&akid=8179%2E1174326%2EYkw5Dv

7. “WHY WAS AN FBI JOINT TERRORISM TASK FORCE TRACKING A BLACK LIVES MATTER PROTEST?,” The Intercept, 12 March 2015. https://act.colorofchange.org/go/10651?t=30&akid=8179%2E1174326%2EYkw5Dv