Why we need Black History Month


Carter G. Woodson, the Black intellectual who in 1926 founded what would become Black History Month, advocated for year-round education on the achievements and contributions of Black Americans. He sought to ensure that Blacks would learn of their past on a daily basis so that eventually “an annual celebration would no longer be necessary” (Association for the Study of African American Life and History).

The year 2020 opened our eyes to the glaring need for education and enlightenment about the lives of Black Americans, who continue to endure racism in a nation that implicitly judges people on the color of their skin rather than on the content of their character. Black History Month (Feb. 1-March 1), ought to serve as a catalyst to begin that education now. This year’s theme is “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.”

While the month focuses on history, that history includes the struggle for racial justice. Go to the Diocese of Davenport website for a list of local resources on racial justice, including Bishop Thomas Zinkula’s statement (davenportdiocese.org/racism) and the diocese’s Liturgy Office website for a statement from Pope Francis, the U.S. bishops, and a prayer (davenportdiocese.org/liturgy). Additionally, The Catholic Messenger launches a series on racial justice in this week’s issue that begins with a historical perspective by historian Tim Walch, a member of the Messenger’s Board of Directors.

Another education opportunity: St. Martin de Porres Society, based at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, invites people throughout the diocese to its monthly meetings — in person or via Zoom. Founded in 1985, the society’s mission is to “promote racial unity and Black awareness among Catholics in the diocese.”


The February meeting is Feb. 16, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at Sacred Heart Cathedral. Attend in person or via Zoom video conference. Contact St. Martin de Porres Society President Thomas Mason IV (thomasmason1928@gmail.com) to express interest. Participants will learn about Father Augustine Tolton (1854-1897), our nation’s first self-identified Black priest who studied for the priesthood in Rome because no seminary in the United States at that time would admit a Black man. Ordained in 1886, he later served as a parish priest in Chicago. He is one of six U.S. Black Catholics under consideration for sainthood.

St. Martin de Porres Society also sponsors a Black History Essay Contest for fifth-graders at All Saints Catholic School in Davenport. This year, the society, in a pastoral response to an incident of racism, expanded the contest to Assumption High School in Davenport. Last fall, some students mimicked the widely publicized death of a Black man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer, and posted the video on social media.

Kudos to Mason, an Assumption alumnus, for reaching out to his alma mater to extend the essay contest to the school’s students. Mason, who is Black, also will give a talk to juniors during their retreat this week at the cathedral. Assumption Principal Bridget Murphy sees the collaboration with Mason and the St. Martin de Porres Society as an opportunity for students to learn more and to write about impactful Black individuals. As Murphy says, education helps students, and all of us, to “recognize how much we have in common as children of God.”

Two students who are friends, one white and one Black, helped found a new group at Assumption called “In Common” to help the student body build on respect, understanding, and to listen to one another’s stories. In Common members will kick off the essay contest at Assumption.

Tyla Cole, a former diocesan archivist who is the daughter of a white father and a Black mother, said in a previous editorial that she has been “no stranger to questions and misperceptions about my appearance. There is hope, but first recognize the fear, thoughtlessness, and need for education, development, and then healing will come.”

Let the healing begin, with our commitment to learn, to develop, and to pray for racial justice.

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

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