Author: Tristan Hilderbrand
The year was 1950. Governments had yet to officially end segregation, and the Lincoln High varsity basketball team received its only black player, Will. (Although the names have been changed, the story remains true.) On the way to their first out-of-town game, the team was assigned seats on the bus. “My mom said I don’t have to sit next to a *****,” remarked the white senior sitting next to Will. “Alright, move,” said the teacher nearby—not to the racist boy, but to Will—as two other teachers stood by in agreement. After switching seats a couple of times, Will ended up next to Charles, a lanky white guy. As the only freshman on the team, Charles was resented and ostracized by the other players, too. All of the players had to double-up on rooms at the hotel, two players for each bed, and Will and Charles were assigned to the same room. When Charles came out of the bathroom, Will was using one of the pillows and extra blankets he found in the armoire to make himself a spot on the cold, hard floor. “What are you doing?” Charles asked. With a puzzled look, Will replied “Well you don’t want to sleep in the same bed as a ***** like me, do you?” Charles’ eyes welled up with tears as he recalled this part. He was glad they were assigned to the same room, because he couldn’t guarantee that any of the other guys would have shared the bed with Will.
We would be discrediting decades of progress to say that we haven’t come a long way. Yet the struggle continues. Whether it be textbook discrimination, discriminatory police brutality, or beauty norms, like texture and styling of hair, we still have miles to go. Nearly 70 years later, we live in a world where such ignorance and blatant disregard for human equality, like in the case between Will and his teammates, is no longer treated as commonplace. The dream that Martin Luther King Junior once had that people of all denominations would walk hand-in-hand, and the hopes of many families that their kids would receive equal opportunity in schooling and employment has largely come true.
Black History Month started as Black History Week by the historian and writer Carter G. Woodson in 1926, when he felt that the history of African Americans was overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by authors of textbooks and even the teachers who taught from them. February was chosen because it held the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, both individuals who had significantly contributed to the rights and liberties of African Americans.
Black History Month isn’t accepted without discontent, however. Many popular figures have spoken out about this month, including stars such as Morgan Freeman. As Freeman has argued, “Black history is American history. There is no White History Month because white people don’t want their history relegated to just one month.” In fact, Woodson himself hoped that someday people would no longer celebrate black history month. He wished that someday it would no longer be necessary, because we wouldn’t see black history as black history, but as an essential part of American history.
Whether you agree or disagree with Black History Month, the best way to celebrate Black History Month—or to get rid of it—is to do so the way it was intended, by honoring and further educating yourself on black history. Just as President Ford said when Black History Month became officially recognized by the government, “We should take up the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” In everything from jazz and hip hop music to successful NASA missions, black Americans have been just as fundamental in creating this country’s culture and success as every other race has. Our nation prides itself on our diversity, and on the local scale, so does UNL.
Part of UNL’s statement on diversity reads “Diversity and inclusion are central to our mission and pursuit of excellence. Each person has something to gain from and offer to our community of learning, discovery and outreach. All are welcome here.” To uphold this mission, UNL and the Lincoln community have put on several events in honor of Black History Month. Although the month is nearly over, here are some ways you can get involved if you haven’t already:
- Attend “Black History Month: Dish It Up” by OASIS on February 28
- Watch “Hidden Figures” in theatres
- Watch “I Am Not Your Negro” at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center
- Check out “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi at the library