February was designated as Black History Month in 1976 to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. However, textbooks and resources rarely do more than scratch the surface of the profound contributions African-Americans have made in the shaping of the United States as we know it today. It’s not enough to simply teach a lesson about Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. We must delve into issues of racial justice and the pursuit of equity.
As unionists, we know that Dr. King was assassinated while supporting a strike by sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. As a matter of fact, Dr. King faced some of the greatest pushback he ever encountered when he began to speak out about the need for economic justice in the United States. We know that workers’ rights and civil rights are inextricably linked. We know that there can be no racial equality until there is economic equity for all people. We know that the history of progress in our country cannot be divorced from the countless selfless activists of color who risked life and liberty to win basic rights for all people.
This Black History Month, dig deep into our collective history. Fearlessly examine the role that racial justice, and injustice, have played in our nation’s past. Lead your students on a quest for truth about the hard-won fights for democratic rights. By all means, teach about Dr. King’s Dream, but also explore the struggle to make it a reality.