My parents listened to a lot of music from the 1950s. As a result, growing up, I listened to a lot of music from the 1950s. I also would see many movies, shows, and such from the same era. I fell in love with the era. Sock hops, men and women dancing with one another, a parent always home for the children to depend on, everyone was happy, super cool cars, things were simple and fun. Well, that was my perception. I held on to that perception for longer than I should have.
Growing up in "white suburbia" with limited exposure to much else, this is what I thought. I fell in love with an era, in my mind, was filled with nothing but happiness. "The 1950s was a great era for everyone! Times were perfect then." I did not know that the perfect housewife was a repressed woman told through advertising and the like that her place was in the home. It never occurred to me that it was strange while watching "Sha Na Na" that there was only one black person among them. When watching "The Rat Pack," there was only one black person. I did not see in the movies or hear the inequality that went on during this time period in the songs.
We were not taught about Rosa Parks and the segregation of black people in my history class in school. Not in any impactful sort of way. My exposure to people of color was limited. As a result, I happily grew up thinking that everyone was happy in the 1950s, and it was so much better than the '70s and '80s that I was growing up in. Blissfully unaware.
Black History Month takes place in February. The first celebration was from January 2 to February 28, 1970! 1970!? It was celebrated at Kent State University in Ohio. (I was not quite born yet as I was born in May of that year over 200 miles away, so it would seem me being uninformed regarding this at that time makes sense.)
In 1976, I was deeply into my first year in school when Black History Month began being celebrated throughout the country, and President Gerald Ford encouraged all Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history." Maybe they mentioned something in our half-day kindergarten class; it is unknown to me at this time. Although, if Black History Month mentioned something, it didn't have much of an impact on me.
Over 50 years since the first celebration of Black History Month, and this is really the first year I am truly aware. There are still many throughout America that are uninformed, misinformed, or completely unaware. There is also much controversy over the month-long celebration. Morgan Freeman has criticized the concept of declaring one month as Black History Month. He said, "I don't want a Black History month. Black history is American history." He is not wrong. Until I began writing this piece, I had not given much thought. I was all prepared to "celebrate" Black History month in some fashion, but in doing some research and coming across the quote by Mr. Freeman, I realized he is absolutely right. We should not be celebrating Black History Month. The schools and parents should educate us on all the contributions and sacrifices black people, and all people of color have made throughout the history of the United States of America. This country was built by people of many different colors and ethnicities. We need to recognize, inform, learn, share, and celebrate all people who have contributed to our nation every day.
The 1950s were not perfect. There was segregation in schools. Inequality was rampant. There were good things and bad things during that era, just as there are today. We need to continue to do better. Every move we make toward equality makes us a better stronger nation. Celebrate Black History Month by recognizing, like Morgan Freeman said, "Black history is American History." Don't live in the world of unknown or blissfully unaware. We have a world of information at our fingertips. Learn to use it properly and learn the truth regarding our past. Then look forward to a healthy, happy, and well-informed future.
Love Lots; Smile Often