February 28, 2011
As an African-American author and publisher of children's books I am delighted when the month of February arrives. February is a short and usually a cold month, but in publishing it's also arguably the best time of the year for exploring and celebrating Black history and culture through books. For writers of African descent, Black History Month means higher visibility in bookstores and in school libraries. It means more author visits. It means an increase in book sales. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, to have this kind of interest and excitement about Black history, culture and experiences throughout the year?
When I attended segregated schools in the mid fifties and early sixties, Negro History Week (which became Black History Month in 1976) was the most exciting time of the school year for me. I was inspired by the school-sponsored Black history essay and oratory contests, by classrooms competing to display the most creative Black history bulletin boards, and by teachers who decorated classrooms and hallways with photographs of distinguished Black heroes and sheroes. I marveled as the names of leaders like Carter G. Woodson, Mary McLeod Bethune, W.E. B. DuBois, Toussaint L'Ouverture, George Washington Carver and Marian Anderson and their achievements were announced over the PA system. I recited poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar and Langston Hughes. And I beamed with pride when the entire school stood and sang in loud, proud voices "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing." There were very few books and other resources for our teachers back then, but for us Negro History Week was an exciting time of true cultural reflection, appreciation and celebration.
Many changes have occurred in our country since the early sixties. Not only is there a Black History Month, but the birthday of an outstanding Black leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a national holiday. And our country is led by Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American president. During February, documentaries, commercials and print ads spotlight aspects of Black history. Bookstore shelves are stocked with picture books, novels, biographies and materials that reflect and celebrate Black history and culture more than at any other time of the year. The spirit of celebration, I believe, is and should be high.
But as soon as February ends, so do most of the documentaries, commercials and prints ads. The books quickly disappear from shelves. And too often, Black authors and artists and their stories are forgotten or marginalized, that is, until the next February.
That won't happen on this blog. We affirm and celebrate Black history and culture 365 and 24/7. And we welcome your feedback and your comments, too.