Black history is part of American history.
Why, then, continue to have Black History Month? Notable people, including actor Morgan Freeman — who is black — ask that very question.
Our answer is: We need to keep having Black History Month to help make Black History Month unnecessary.
And we need to use it properly: To show everyone, of all colors, that black history is part of American history.
Not some separate compartment of American history, either, but interwoven into America’s tapestry in such a way that our history would not exist in its present form without black people.
Or Asian people, or American Indians, or European people, or whatever — but we’re talking about Black History Month here, so bear with us.
Black history shapes American history not simply because slavery led to the Civil War. Individual people who happened to be black stand alongside people of other colors in contributing things to our society we take for granted.
Garrett Morgan of Cleveland invented the traffic light. Curse the red light all you want, but we can’t live without it — witness the passion that greeted the switch to four-way flashers in downtown Sandusky a couple years ago.
Morgan also invented a breathing device that made it possible for him to rescue trapped tunnelmen from a caved-in tunnel under Lake Erie in 1916. All kinds of people wanted his “gas mask” until they found out it was invented by a black man — but a few years later, doughboys facing gas attacks in World War I didn’t care what color their masks’ inventor was.
Dr. Charles Drew figured out how to separate blood plasma from whole blood. Plasma keeps longer, and it can be used to stablize someone who’s lost a lot of blood without worrying about blood type. There’s no counting the people who owe their lives to Drew. For a long time, there was a story he died of automobile accident injuries because the hospital where he ended up refused to treat a black man, but that wasn’t true. He died, but it was despite heroic efforts by doctors.
Our own story, the story of Sandusky and environs, would not be what it is without acknowledging its sons and daughters who are black. Like comedian Tess Drake, they make us laugh; like athletes Scott May, Orlando Pace and Kevin Randleman, they inspire us; like Charles Odums III, whose life and dreams of being a doctor were ended by a bomb in Iraq, they make us sad and proud. But their stories are part of our story; they are us.
Black History Month helps us remember that. Once we all do, once the color of a person’s skin becomes no more than a footnote to his or her other contributions to life, we won’t need it anymore.
And it will have done its work, because we will have done ours.