Black History Month is about gratitude. I am grateful because time and again black people’s struggle for freedom advanced liberation for everyone in the United States—and is still advancing it today.
The women’s rights movement of the 19th century emerged from abolitionism. Black and white women agitating for an end to slavery gained skills in organizing and advocacy, fighting to make their own voices heard as campaigners for abolition and ultimately for women’s suffrage. Women’s rights moved forward even as black women activists and leaders, like Ida B. Wells, were increasingly marginalized within the suffrage movement they worked to build.
On the level of ideas and imagination, the successful battle against slavery also showed that seemingly eternal and immutable facts of the social order can—and must—be changed.
In the decades since, the gains of the Civil Rights Movement broadened opportunities for all people of color and spurred independent organizing by Native American, Puerto Rican and Mexican-American activists who drew on the tactics and insights of African American civil rights and Black Power organizations. Americans fighting for workers’ rights, environmental sustainability, disability rights, LGBTQ rights, and feminism similarly benefitted from and built on the example of the civil rights struggle. Black activists contributed to all of these movements.
African Americans’ push for social inclusion broke down barriers for all of us. Today, movements like Black Lives Matter, the Poor People’s Campaign, and voting rights campaigns like the triumphant Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and Stacey Abrams’ new Fair Fight Action continue to move us forward.
I talk to my children about how they—who have ethnic roots in Ireland, China, Samoa, Germany, Switzerland, and the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, but as far as we know, no African ancestry—are beneficiaries of the struggles of black history. And how we have an obligation to stand in solidarity and support for the fights of our own time.
Since 1976, the United States has designated February as Black History Month to honor the often overlooked achievements of black Americans throughout the country’s history. Demos is honoring Black History Month by highlighting reflections from some of our staff. We welcome you to join the conversation by sharing your thoughts with us on social media using #blackhistorymonth.