Black History Gets the Shortest Month of the Year
Black History Month was originally not a month but rather a week-long celebration in 1926. It was organized by Carter G. Woodson, the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. In 1976, President Ford recognized Black History Month, urging Americans to “honor the accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Great but why did “Black History” get the shortest month of the year?
Actually, the month was chosen because Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays were in February. Last year’s celebration was noteworthy in that Donald Trump spoke but, inexplicably, he failed to mention slavery. Oops.
Instead, Trump boasted about, “How well I did with the black vote.” Back on earth, Trump got 4% of the black female vote and 13% of black men. (However, it’s likely he got 100% of the Russian vote.)
Trump did mention Frederick Douglass at the event but he spoke about him in the present tense. “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more.” It was obvious Trump thought Douglass was still alive. (He died in 1895.)
As brought to my attention by Lynette, a loyal reader, there’s some unfortunate history in Santa Monica that should be mentioned for those who don’t know during Black History Month. You see, Santa Monica had its own version of Jim Crow. This, by no means, made us unique but, in looking back, it’s also shameful it existed.
In 1959, Lynette was a white five-year-old about to attend a birthday party for her friend, a black girl with whom she took dance lessons. The celebration was to take place at the Bay Street beach where blacks felt comfortable.
The beach was derogatorily called “The Inkwell” by whites. Such names existed for other beaches across the U.S. as well. Nonetheless, African Americans in Southern California, like their counterparts elsewhere, transformed the hateful moniker into a badge of pride.
The Inkwell was located at Pico and stretched south to Bicknell, with its focal point changing with development at the shoreline. It was situated near Phillips Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church, the first black church in Santa Monica.
But back to that day in 1959 at Inkwell. Lynette and her father arrived early as he was bringing balloons and party decorations. Her dad was a lawyer who, oddly enough, had a client in the party supply business. When the client couldn’t afford his bill he gave Lynette’s dad a boatload of party supplies as payment.
The black beach-goers were uncomfortable with the white intruders on “their” beach until Lynette’s father explained the circumstances. The birthday girl, with her family, soon showed up and was excited by all the party regalia.
A good time was had by all. Yet Lynette’s exposure to the concept of discrimination i.e. that black people, because of their skin color, were not welcome at other beaches, stuck with Lynette all these years.
Places like the Inkwell in Santa Monica began to disappear in the 1960s once civil rights laws expanded and were finally enforced. (That’s NOT that long ago!) Keep in mind, there were restrictive covenants in many deeds in Santa Monica that forbade the selling of real estate to African-Americans.
Blacks were pushed into an area where the Civic Auditorium is now, known as Belmar and in more inland neighborhoods in the Pico District around 20th Street. (Thankfully, in 1948, the covenants were ruled unconstitutional and years later anti-discrimination housing laws were passed.)
In 2008, at the urging of a group of black surfers, and our City Council’s action, a monument was placed at the Bay Street beach just east of the boardwalk. It was implemented in the hope of educating everyone who passed it about a less than proud era in our city.
Black History Month is also observed in Canada, the U.K., and the Netherlands. The year before Trump thought Frederick Douglass was still alive, featured another noteworthy Black History Month moment.
On February 21, 2016, Virginia McLaurin, a spry 106-year Washington D.C. resident, and school volunteer, visited the White House. When asked by President Obama why she was there, McLaurin said, “A black president, a black wife, I’m here to celebrate black history!”
Perhaps because of that day on the beach when she was five, Lynette celebrates Black History Month every year. This year she visited the African American Firefighters Museum in Los Angeles. She was highly impressed by the museum’s docent, Jimmy Smith, who was a fountain of information.
For years I’ve been meaning to write about Black History Month but the twenty-eight days seem to go by too fast. Thanks to Lynette, this year, I finally made them slow down.
For more about the Inkwell go to http://alisonrosejefferson.com/sms-bay-st-beachinkwell-monument-intl-coastal-cleanup-day-2017-location. For the African-American Firefighters Museum, including photos and history, go to https://www.aaffmuseum.org/
Jack is at firstname.lastname@example.org