Observe Black August in addition to, not in spite of, Black History Month

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Dr. Ivory Phillips

It is possible that there are many Black people, and others who are advocates of racial and social justice, that are not familiar with “Black August.”  There are perhaps many who have heard of Black August but felt that there was no need for such observance because of the federally-declared Black History Month celebrations.  The truth of the matter, however, is that Black August is needed in addition to Black History Month celebrations.

Black August is a concept that evolved in the 1970s as a month-long study of and devotion to Black liberation.  It specifically focuses on Black people who have made tremendous sacrifices for the liberation of Black people.  It focuses on Black political prisoners.  It focuses on Black victims and freedom fighters. It focusses on the on-going and continuous need to rid America, in particular, but the world in general, of the systems that shackle and destroy non-white people.

It may be coincidental that it was in August that Marcus Garvey was born and that Emmett Till was tortured and killed.  It may be coincidental that it was in August that the ship carrying the first enslaved Africans landed in Jamestown, Virginia and that next door, in Southampton, Virginia, Nat Turner led one of the earliest slave rebellions.  It may even be coincidental that in August of the same year that the Voting Rights Act was passed, Black residents in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles staged a nearly week-long series of riots protesting racist police conduct.  What is not a coincidence, however, is that Black scholars/activists chose August as the month for the study and commemoration of Black liberation.  It was precisely because of the staggering number of events and individuals associated with this month that August was chosen.

Black History Month broadly celebrates the history of Black people in America, and rightly so.  It should be enthusiastically learned.  Black August, on the other hand, more systematically looks at the concept of liberation in Black history – what has been done and what needs to be done to advance it; what has been done and what continues being done to forestall it.  Thus, it is a specialized look at the human quest for liberation by Black people.

On the one hand, it is important to de-commercialize the celebration of Black History Month so that the people actually learn that history.  On the other hand, it is important that Black August observations avoid such commercialization in its infant stage.  This means that those who have the special gift, ability, time, and energy should begin serious study groups to disseminate the truths of Black August.  Those who have the motivation, time, and energy to study should demand and flock to such study sessions.  We need to avoid the situation of having people going off half-cocked when it comes to understanding the struggle for liberation, be they teachers or students.

Black August can help, for example, to look at the multiplicity of lynchings and mob violence around the country and over the years, and thereby come to realize the intensity and universality of the struggle to maintain white supremacy and white privilege.  As a result of that, one can come to realize the amount of struggle needed from everybody, including oneself, if Black liberation is to succeed.  Black August study activities can help the average citizen to understand the consistent effort to vilify significant warriors such as Marcus Garvey, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, and numerous political prisoners.  Consequently, oppressed people must raise-up and revere their own heroes based upon their contribution to Black liberation.

It is certainly important to recognize and appreciate Black people who have made solid contributions in athletics and entertainment, business and labor, law and politics, research and education, science and medicine, war and peace, and in many other fields.  It is important to be able to understand the milestones along the freedom trail, such as the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, and the various civil rights acts.  Beyond those, however, the world, in general, but Black people themselves need to understand and appreciate the roles that have been played by Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, George Jackson, Medgar Evers, Imari Obadele, T.R.M. Howard, and numerous others, even when they were just unfortunate victims.  Liberation has to be spoken of specifically within the sea of World history, American history and even Black history.  In that sense, Black August can prepare people for a more active role in their own liberation. 

As August 2022 begins, one should take the time to see what he/she can do to add to the liberation struggle through teaching, learning, organizing, and/or following.  That is the least that can be done to help pay the debt owed to those who have gone before as warriors and trailblazers.   

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Observe Black August in addition to, not in spite of, Black History Month

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
August 7, 2022