In celebration of Black History Month, Henry Hood ‘24 and Valeria Santiago ’24 spoke to the school community during chapel about the history of Black History Month and acknowledged the contributions and actions of so many people – those regularly highlighted as well as those often overlooked – in the pursuit of equity. As part of the chapel service, Henry played Skating by Vince Guaraldi on the piano and invited the community to reflect on how we may use our voices to create change.
Valeria Santiago ’24
February is Black History Month. A lot of people ask why is Black History Month a thing but don't really know the history about it. The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History was established in 1915 by historian and author Dr. Carter G. Woodson. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History has since taken the place of this organization (ASALH).
In February 1926, Dr. Woodson launched the inaugural Negro History Week through this group. During Black History Week in 1975, President Ford urged all Americans to "recognize the significant contribution made by black individuals to our nation's life and culture."
Black History Month, formerly known as African American History Month, was established by ASALH in 1976 as an extension of the week-long commemoration of Black history in the United States. Congress declared February 1986 to be "National Black (Afro-American) History Month" by passing Public Law 99-244 in 1986. In line with this rule, February 1st would "mark the commencement of the sixty-first annual public and private homage to Black History."
The law also required the president to issue a proclamation urging Americans to honor Black History Month in 1986 by participating in the proper ceremonies and events. "The fundamental goal of Black History Month is to make all Americans aware of this struggle for freedom and equitable opportunity," declared President Reagan in Presidential Proclamation 5443. The declaration said that this month was a time to "honor the tremendous achievements of African Americans in every sector, from science to business to politics.
Annual proclamations commemorating National Black History Month have been made by presidents every year since 1996. President Clinton declared January 1996 to be "National African American History Month" by signing Presidential Proclamation 6863.
The emphasis of the proclamation was on the year's theme, which highlighted the accomplishments of Black women from Sojourner Truth through Mary McLeod Bethune and Toni Morrison. Resolutions recognizing Black History Month have been periodically enacted by Congress since 1996. Senate Resolution 229 honoring Black History Month and the accomplishments of Black American U.S. Senators were enacted by the Senate in February 1996.
Black History would never have been what it is today if it wasn't for: those figures below and the many more people that we should celebrate this month who fought for my rights and the rights of so many people.
- Martin Luther King Jr.: fought for equal rights for Black Americans, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
- Monica Roberts: LGBTQ+ rights advocate
- James Balwin: writer and civil rights activist
- Maya Angelou: poet, writer, actress, and Hollywood's first black female director
- Eugene Bullard: First African American military pilot, who went on to become a Paris nightclub impresario, a spy in the French Resistance, and an American civil rights pioneer.
Henry Hood ’24
As we gather to start the celebration of Black History Month, I want to speak to you about a topic that is often overlooked but is incredibly important to history and our world today. It is the idea that as much as Black people have created a change… so did many others.
It is important to acknowledge the contributions and actions of white allies in the change that we have been seeking. For example, Jonathan Myrick Daniels. Daniels was a white Episcopal seminarian and civil rights activist who was from Keene, New Hampshire. He was a part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. On August 14th, 1965 Daniels and 28 other protesters went down to Fort Deposit, Alabama to speak up and protest against whites-only stores. They were all arrested that day and transported in a garbage truck to a jail in a town close by called Hayneville.
The following day, five of the Juvenile protesters were released; however, the rest of the group spent the next six days in a jail that lacked air conditioning. The authorities would not grant bail to any individual unless it was granted to all individuals.
The prisoners were finally released on August 20th, however, they were not provided with transportation back to Fort Deposit. Instead, they were left to wait near the courthouse jail while one of their members arranged for transportation. Daniels and a group of three others, two black female activists, and a white Catholic priest went to one of the few stores that would serve non-whites soft drinks. Preventing them from entering was an unpaid special deputy, Tom L. Coleman. In his hands was a shotgun and on his hip, a pistol. Coleman set his sights on a 17-year-old Ruby Sales. Acting fast, Daniels pushed Sales out of the way, taking on the full blast of the shotgun. He was killed instantly. Father Richard F. Morrisroe grabbed activist Joyce Bailey and sprinted out of the way. Coleman mercilessly shot and wounded his lower back. Coleman received no punishment for his actions.
Upon learning of his death, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated that "one of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry was performed by Jonathan Daniels." For many people in this room, this is the history of people that look like us, and for many of you, this is the history of people that don’t look like you. Looking towards the future this is what we need for a future where everyone is valued and respected, regardless of their appearance. There are many stories like this throughout history and without the support or advocacy of white allies, we wouldn’t be where we are today.