As a youth growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1960s, there was no Black History Month to celebrate. I was incredibly proud of Clevelanders Carl Stokes, the first Black mayor of a major American city, elected in Cleveland in 1967, and Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. I had never learned of the accomplishments of other Clevelanders such as George Peake, the first African American to settle permanently in Cleveland when he arrived in 1809, or Garrett A. Morgan, who invented the three-position traffic light, or Dorothy Dandridge, the first African American to be nominated for a best-actress Oscar.
Black History Month, formerly known as Negro History Month, originated at Kent State University in 1970. President Gerald Ford, in 1976, acknowledged the significance of Black History Month, stating: “the message of courage and perseverance it brings to all of us… (I)n celebrating Black History Month… we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Black history is of immense importance to all of us for several reasons. It provides an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of Black individuals throughout history. It highlights the positive impact Black Americans have had on various fields, including science, arts, politics, sports, and more. It allows for a deeper understanding of the rich cultural heritage of Black communities. It encompasses the history, traditions, and diverse experiences of Black people, fostering a sense of pride and connection to one’s roots. And it sheds light on the historical struggles faced by Black communities, such as slavery, segregation, and systemic racism. Recognizing these challenges is crucial to understanding the resilience, strength, and determination of Black individuals and communities in the face of adversity. Finally, Black History Month serves as an educational tool, raising awareness about significant historical events, figures, and movements that have been ignored in established curricula. It helps bridge gaps in knowledge and fosters a more inclusive understanding of history.
It is troubling to me that Black History has recently faced a series of attacks, both subtle and overt, that threaten to undermine its significance and erase the rich tapestry of contributions made by Black individuals throughout history. These attacks manifest in various forms. Historical revisionism is an insidious attack on the truth that involves attempts to revise history to downplay the impact of Black individuals and communities and minimize the contributions of Black figures, misrepresenting historical events to diminish their significance. Attacks on Black History are also evident in efforts to limit or eliminate the teaching of accurate and comprehensive Black History in educational curricula. Legislation aimed at restricting the discussion of racism and systemic issues further exacerbates this problem, hindering the understanding of the complexities surrounding racial injustice. It also diminishes the very real progress we have made as a nation.
The recent attacks on Black History demand a concerted and strategic response. Here at the National Housing Conference, we celebrate our successes as a nation while being unafraid to confront our shortcomings, like the racial wealth gap. Formed in 1931, the National Housing Conference played a significant role in obtaining the passage of the National Housing Act of 1934, enacted during the Great Depression as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. It created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation in order to make housing and home mortgages more affordable. Unfortunately, FHA adopted the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation’s rating system which redlined neighborhoods deemed “too risky” because they included Black families. This practice denied Black families government-backed mortgages and encouraged other lenders to refuse to serve them. While redlining was ultimately made illegal in 1968 with the passage of the Fair Housing Act, the result of these and other discriminatory policies denied the ability to participate in homeownership to generations of Black households.
The Black-White homeownership disparity remains vast. As of the 4th Quarter 2023, White homeownership is 73.8% while Black homeownership is almost 45.9%, a gap of almost 30%, higher than it was in 1960.
This disparity was the nucleus for the formation of the Black Homeownership Collaborative and, through it, we continue to work with our colleagues at the NAACP, National Urban League, National Association of REALTORS®, Mortgage Bankers Association, National Association of Real Estate Brokers, Hope Enterprises, the National Fair Housing Alliance, and the Urban Institute to overcome the discriminatory policies of the past and strive to improve access to Black homeownership.
By promoting education, celebrating achievements, fostering community empowerment, supporting cultural institutions, and advocating for inclusive policies, individuals and communities can actively resist efforts to erase our past and ensure that Black History remains a vibrant and integral part of our shared human story. Working together, we can build a more inclusive and equitable future for all.