Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP | 20th Anniversary 2004 - 2024
Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP | 20th Anniversary 2004 - 2024

Sanford Heisler Sharp Statement on Black History Month 2024

February, 2024

America would not be the nation that it is today without the sacrifice, resistance, and triumph of Black Americans. “There is no American history without African American history. The Black experience is embedded in everything we think of as ‘American history,” said Sara Clarke Kaplan, executive director of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center at American University.

As a plaintiff-side law firm, Sanford Heisler Sharp is committed to fighting racial discrimination and advocating for the equal rights of Black employees. On behalf of Sanford Heisler Sharp, we would like to honor Black History Month by remembering its origins, acknowledging ongoing attacks on Black history, and celebrating this month’s theme, African Americans and the Arts.

The Origins of Black History Month

Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), the founder of Black History Month, dedicated 40 years of his life to Black history because, during his time, “it was commonly presumed that black people had little history besides the subjugation of slavery” (ASALH About Us).

Dr. Woodson’s efforts to preserve Black history began with his PhD from Harvard University in 1912. Shortly after, Dr. Woodson paid to join the American Historical Association, but the association barred Dr. Woodson from attending its whites-only conferences. So, three years later, Dr. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) and in 1926, Dr. Woodson created Black History Week, the precursor to Black History Month.

Although Dr. Woodson is known for founding Black History Month, Daryl Michael Schott (a former President of ASALH) recounts how Dr. Woodson worked relentlessly throughout the entire year to expand Black studies in schools and colleges, mentor young Black scholars, and create African American museums. Dr. Woodson went so far as to purchase a three-story brick house that served as both his home and the headquarters for his programs.

Today, Dr. Woodson is remembered as “the Father of Black History” and the ASALH continues Dr. Woodson’s legacy in resisting the erasure of a history that is both Black and American.

Ongoing Attacks on Black History

Despite our intertwined histories, the American education system wrongfully excludes Black history from American history. According to Education Week, a total of “44 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism.” In January 2023, Florida banned AP African American Studies and since then The Washington Post reported that 18 states have successfully banned or restricted teachings of Critical Race Theory. In response, the ASALH held its 2023 Annual Conference in Florida and set the theme as resisting attacks on Black history.

The ASALH also organizes Black History Month every year by designating a theme of Black Americans to honor and hosting community events and programs. This year’s theme, African Americans and the Arts, is an opportunity to celebrate how Black art creates social change and stirs new waves of creativity, inspiration, and innovation.

Black Art as a Catalyst for Social Change

Black art has long been an avenue for progressing politics, challenging problematic beauty standards, and sharing stories of Black experiences that are often neglected. Art movements are the most telling examples of how Black art transforms American history and culture.

For instance, the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ’30s was the first major art movement after slavery, where Black artists could freely take “pride in” and “control” the images of Black people. Black artists of the Harlem Renaissance set the tone for the Civil Rights Movement by subtly challenging Jim Crow stereotypes and black-face stories.

By the 1960s and ’70s, Black Americans could no longer tolerate segregation and continued antiBlack violence (including lynchings, police brutality, and U.S. intelligence attacking Black leaders). Thus, the Black Arts Movement formed within the Black Power Movement to demand justice, liberty, and peace in tandem with the Civil Rights Movement.

Similarly, Hip Hop grew from the streets of the Bronx in the 1970s to amplify the voices of struggling young Black Americans and motivate them to use whatever tools they have at their dispense and to build off of other musicians. Like many of these other art movements, Hip Hop has the capacity to create a safe space for people to channel and embrace their feelings.

More recently, Afrofuturism (a current art movement) is characterized by an imagining of “alternative futures” that “advance Black life” and allows audiences to see Black people in powerful spaces and roles they have never been imagined in. Whereas other Black art movements demand justice, Afrofuturism can show us what justice is in an alternate society and help us re-evaluate how our society operates.

In short, all Black art movements are rooted in Black struggles and the desire for a better future. Even Black art that may not incorporate grand or sweeping themes, rather depicting everyday subject matter, is critical in increasing representation of both Black creatives and Black subjects and creating more truthful narratives about the Black experience in America.

How to Participate in Black History Month

There are so many ways to participate in Black History Month. For starters, visiting Black museums and art exhibits, finding Black artists to support in mediums you enjoy (whether it be film, music, paintings, books, or even video games), and donating to Black art and history organizations that push this critical work. And, most importantly, standing with Black artists who endure attacks on Black experience, or “Black-ness,” based on faux egalitarianism.

For instance, we must stand with Andra Day for her wonderful rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing at the Super Bowl. Certain conservatives claim the song is divisive because it is the “black national anthem.” On the contrary, Lift Every Voice and Sing honors the labors of our predecessors and celebrates a brighter future in true American fashion. While born out of Black experience, the song does not once mention slavery or “Black-ness.” Instead, the song lyrics rejoice in the universal values of liberty, faith, and hope. So, while Lift Every Voice and Sing has a special place in the hearts of Black communities, the song is inclusive of all American experiences, like most Black art yearning for belonging, truth, and inclusivity.

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