He’s a bit of a forgotten Commander in Chief but he is the US President who did get Black History Month… he brought it to the masses
Gerald Ford officially recognised the programme in 1976, the bicentenary of the USA.
When he called on the public to: ‘seize the opportunity to honour the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavour throughout our history.’
Ours in Britain is October and dates back to 1987 to mark 150 years of emancipation in the Caribbean.
Of course black history isn’t and shouldn’t be restricted to either February or October.
And while I’ve had to seek out black history myself around the world thankfully it is taught now in schools.
And, of course, it isn’t a black and white issue, these black icons should be everyone’s icons.
We share your dream
Dr Martin Luther King: A leader for the ages and how we could do with his like today.
And his memorial in the unfinished statue in Washington DC, unfinished because it can’t be completed until the struggle is.
Harriet Tubman: And even before the film of her life Harriet was immortalised in song in Swing Low, Sweet Harriet.
And you thought it was an England rugby song…
No, she was coming for to carry me home (the black slaves of the Civil War era, that is).
And you can see how she did it at the Slave Haven in Memphis.
Rightly now she stands proud on pedestals in the modern-day Oo Es of Eh, and most poignantly in her home state of Maryland.
The long march
Nelson Mandela: Mandela’s status and reach marks him out as the only statesman icon of our age.
With nearly 300 locations named after the first post-Apartheid President of South Africa.
Of course there were those, take a bow Glasgow who would rename the street on which the SA embassy was after Mandela.
So correspondence would be delivered to Nelson Mandela Place.
Bob Marley: And while there are other deserving black legends of music none pioneered black political empowerment quite like the King of Reggae.
Marley emboldened black people through his musical message at a time when racism was institutionalised throughout the UK and the world.
But most especially in his native and much-referenced Kingston in Jamaica.
Mary Seacole: Much though still needs to be done to level up with those we put on a pedestal.
And it is instructive that when the British government set up their emergency hospitals during Covid they called them Nightingales.
After Florence, whose harsh matronly rule of the hospitals out in Crimea are now being revisited by historians.
While Jamaican-born Mary is only recently being studied in schools.
Flo, we should remember, also turned Mary away, probably on account of her race, but she went on to set up her own hospital.
All something then to explore as we get Black History Month.