HED:Church celebrate black history
By John Armistead
The Rev. Charles W. Young, pastor of Thompson Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Houlka, feels a strong emphasis on black history helps orient black young people toward positive goals.
"We want our young people to gain a sense of dignity and that we are somebody," he said. "You might not become a Martin Luther King Jr. but you ought to be the best you can be. If that's a street sweeper, be the best street sweeper you can. You don't have to sell drugs and go to Parchman."
Like most predominantly black churches in Northeast Mississippi, Thompson Chapel will have special emphases on black history during February.
The practice of celebrating the accomplishments of black men and women in February began in the early 1900s when an American black historian, Carter G. Woodson, conceived of "Negro History Week." Through the efforts of the Harvard-educated Woodson and others, black schools throughout the South quickly set aside one week in February for the special emphasis.
At the same time, black history was not ignored during the rest of the year. "In black schools before integration, they taught black history alongside American history," said the Rev. Marquette Rogers, pastor of Fulton's St. Matthews Missionary Baptist Church. "But after integration black history was not mentioned very much and there wasn't as much emphasis on our heritage."
In spite of the fact that most newly integrated public schools instituted Black History Month, many feared their young were still not getting as strong a dose of their roots as they would like.
"Before, it was left up to black teachers," Rogers said, "but now a child could go through school and not ever have a black teacher."
Churches, always a center of cultural and political as well as religious life in the black community, picked up where the historic black schools had left off. While churches had always conducted some programs on black history, now efforts became more vigorous.
"It's good for black people to be proud of their heritage and be happy with who they are," said Rogers. "Blacks have been part of American history from the beginning, and it's important to let them know that blacks contributed to our society."
Many church programs will be marked by preaching, singing of black spirituals, and dramatic productions. At Solid Rock Pentecostal Church in Plantersville, young people will prepare reports on black leaders and give these orally before the congregation.
The Rev. Ledentry Forster, pastor, hopes the emphasis will inspire the youth toward making their own contributions to society. "I would hope that it would encourage them to get into leadership and that it gives them a positive attitude toward life," he said.
The Rev. Lewis McGee, pastor of New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, Plantersville, also sees the special month as vital for helping young people. "The main reason for having it is to keep our younger generation abreast of the achievements of many black men and women in the past," he said. "I think now (since integration), it is left mostly up to the church and the home."
At the same time, McGee feels whatever emphasis schools give black history during February is good. "My granddaughter has a lot of white friends," he said, "and I think making the white children aware of this helps give them a respect for their peers. It helps both races. What happens is that they share in this experience together."