HISTORY + RACE

Black History Month Isn't Just About Celebrating Firsts. Let's Broaden the Conversation

In our ritualistic adornment of firsts, we fail to provide context

Allison Wiltz
6 min readFeb 5, 2022

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Photo by Brands&People on Unsplash

I don't know who needs to hear this, but Black History Month is not all about Black "firsts." We could tell you all about Hiram Revels, who became the first Black senator, Carol Moseley Braun, the first Black woman senator, or Barack Obama, who became America's first Black President—but only hearing the stories of firsts often diminishes the struggle it took to get to that point and unintentionally belittles the accomplishments of those who come after. In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "I can't limit my concern to this particular situation where a negro comes and says I'm the first negro. I'm tired of the first negro. I want some seconds and thirds, and fourths."

Encouraging students to pick their favorite Black "first" and write a short paper about them may be the wrong way to educate the public about Black History. None of these accomplishments happened in a vacuum. In celebrating Black firsts so religiously, have we failed to teach Black History? I'm afraid so because the idea that Black people have to battle the eight-legged Kraken of White Supremacy and arise victorious to be acknowledged undermines those who fought against racism and didn't live to tell the tale. So, let's talk about the struggles of Black Americans, including topics some White Americans feel uncomfortable with, like slave rebellions.

Did you know that Historians estimate there were at least 250 slave uprisings? The Stono Rebellion of 1739, the New York City Conspiracy of 1741, Gabriel's Conspiracy of 1800, the German Coast Uprising of 1811, and Nat Turner's Rebellion of 1831 are some of the most infamous examples. Do you know the stories of the Black Americans who rebelled against one of the most brutal slavery systems in the world? Because without their stories, neither the first Black senators nor President would be possible. As Nikole Hannah Jones wrote in The 1619 Project, "Without the idealistic, strenuous and patriotic efforts of Black Americans, our democracy today would most likely look very different — it might not be a democracy at all."

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Allison Wiltz

Womanist Scholar bylines @ Momentum, Oprah Daily, ZORA, GEN, EIC of Cultured #WEOC Founder allisonthedailywriter.com https://ko-fi.com/allyfromnola