When Carter G. Woodson introduced the idea of Negro History Week in 1926, he said the effort was necessary to combat "thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind."
Eighty-seven years later, we are celebrating Black History Month. Do we continue this celebration because we have not yet met Woodson's original goal?
That's a heady question, but a relevant one. There is no question that the Africans brought to America during the Middle Passage, and their descendants, have made significant contributions to the progress of mankind. Black soldiers fought and died on both sides of the Civil War. A black doctor uncovered the science that led to the development of the modern blood bank. A black ophthalmologist invented a laser device for removing cataracts and laid the foundation for the LASIK surgery. Evidence of African-Americans' contributions to society are all around us.
So, when the contributions of African-Americans are so pervasive; when there is no longer a "thorough instruction" that African Americans have not contributed to mankind; why do we still celebrate Black History Month?
In the 4th chapter of the book of Joshua, God directs Joshua to take one man from each of the twelve tribes and have each of them take a stone from the middle of the river Jordan. In verses 6 and 7, Joshua tells the men, "Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, 'What do these stones mean to you?' then you shall say to them, 'Because the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.' So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever."
We celebrate Black History Month because it forces all of us to visit the memorials of the sons of the Middle Passage. The school book reports, church plays and radio programs that focus on Black History in the month of February are like the stones from the river Jordan. They prompt us to tell the stories to our friends and families about the achievements of African-Americans that not only demonstrate the strength of a people, but also helped build the greatest country on Earth.
If I had never been assigned a book report about Booker T. Washington, I may have never asked my mother why she attended Tuskegee Institute. I may have never known that she helped integrate Emory's nursing program or how that experience affected her. I certainly would never have understood why she is so fiercely loyal to her alma mater to this day.
These and other similar stories aren't just important for me to know; they are important for my daughter and my wife and my neighbors to know, because they shape us. Knowing not just where, but what we come from will always affect where we are going. So, we should all take time this Black History Month to look back at the stones. But, more importantly, let's all use those stones to build a stronger foundation for our society.
Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.