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Black history is American history: Laborers are few in fight for equality of races in the U.S.

Rebecca Barnabi
Black History Month
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The celebration of Black History Month in the United States originated from Negro History Week, the second week in February, and was created by historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson.

The second week of February included President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 and Frederick Douglass’ on February 14. Since the late 1800s, Black communities had celebrated the birthdays of both historical figures.

Woodson was born in New Canton, Virginia, approximately one hour’s drive southeast of Waynesboro.

The Waynesboro branch of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People celebrated Black History Month Sunday at Union Baptist Church with music, fellowship and “The Harvest is Plentiful, but the Laborers are Few” by Mary Baldwin University Professor of History Dr. Amy Tillerson-Brown.

“If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world and it stands in danger of being exterminated,” Woodson said.

“And, because of that, he started Negro History Day that expanded into Negro History Week,” Tillerson-Brown said, “that in 1926 became Black History Month.”

A few years ago, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin opened a phone tip line for Virginians to report teachers who are teaching Critical Race Theory.

“This has become a flash point for Republicans in the last few years,” Tillerson-Brown said. “What these politicians were really asking was for these teachers to stop teaching Black history, because it made them uncomfortable.”

Black history is American history. And if a five-year-old child is old enough to experience racism in America, a 10-year-old child is old enough to learn about it. While Gen Z members have taken to social media “to push back against the hate,” the work remains plentiful and not enough laborers are available to do the work.

“Not as many people will stand up and actually resist,” Tillerson-Brown said.

She cited the story in Numbers of Zelophehad’s five daughters. Zelophehad died before the Israelites’ 40-year journey was over, and, as women, his daughters could not inherit their father’s land. Instead of sitting by, the daughters spoke up. They were not willing to just accept traditions as they had always been.

Moses brought their cause before God and he was told the father’s land should pass to the daughters. Zelophehad was a descendant of Jacbo and Joseph in the Old Testament.

“His daughters did not just change the trajectory for them, they changed the trajectory for centuries and generations of women to come,” Tillerson-Brown said. “Because they stood in their faith. They realized something wasn’t right and they were brave enough to stand up for it. The harvest if plentiful, but the laborers are few.”

The five daughters stood up to the law, because the law is not always right. At one time in the United States, anyone born of a slave was considered a slave under the law.

“And if the law is wrong, we have a responsibility to change the law,” Tillerson-Brown said.

She asked the audience what they should do if they find themselves in a situation which law or policy does not address.

“You always have a choice to do the right thing,” she said.

If nobody says anything, the situation will not change.

“We, like Zelophehad’s daughters, can speak out for racial justice.”

The promised land has not yet been reached, but the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few.

Some Black Americans and some white Americans disliked the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In September 1958 in Harlem, Izola Ware Curry, 42, approached King and stabbed him with a seven-inch letter opener. King was signing copies of his book, “Stride Toward Freedom,” and Curry, a Black woman, believed all members of the NAACP were communists. King survived and Curry was committed to a mental hospital in Manhattan. She died of natural causes in 2015.

Tillerson-Brown said that doctors later said if the civil rights icon had coughed or sneezed, the letter opener would have pierced his aorta and he would have died. King was 29 years old.

“He was just a sneeze away from death. I’m so glad he didn’t sneeze. Skin color alone does not automatically dictate friend or enemy. White supremacy marches boldly on.”

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.