Personal stories are at the core of Black History Month. American's should honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but should not forego the average stories in every African-American family in favor of the once-a-century events and leaders in our history.
Heather Leiphart/Panama City News Herald/AP
Observations of Black History Month, which begins today, will no doubt pay special homage to two events celebrating milestone anniversaries this year: the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. These seminal developments in American history fundamentally reshaped the nation, and thus it makes sense for them to be the chief focus this month. But they should not be the only one.
The crowning achievements of two remarkable men, President Abraham Lincoln and Dr. King, are inspirational, but fall short of the power found in the incredible stories of the everyday African-American family.
As evidence, we need look no further than President Obama – who used the Lincoln and King Bibles to take the inaugural oath last month – and the chosen title for his 1995 memoir: “Dreams from my Father.” Mr. Obama’s story is remarkable in many ways, just as the backstories of many African-American families are.
My dreams come from the same place. One of my family’s stories is of my great-grandparents’ admiration for a president and the fulfillment of their hopes for their descendants. In many ways, this story has guided my life’s journey.
The story begins when President William McKinley was assassinated in 1901. Theodore Roosevelt then ascended to the nation’s highest office, and arguably his first act of courage as president occurred that same year, on Oct. 16. On that night, at the personal invitation of President Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington walked out of the Blue Room of the White House and dined with the president and first lady, marking the first time an African-American had ever done so.