February is a month designated to celebrate the gifts and contributions of African-Americans. Carter G. Woodson, a historian, began the formal recognition of Black History Week in 1926. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially designated February as Black History Month, encouraging Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
While Black History Month is widely celebrated in the United States, its significance reaches across the boundaries of race and nations. Countries around the world, from Canada to the United Kingdom, designate a time to commemorate the contributions and achievements of black citizens who have made enduring and pioneering contributions to their countries, as well. Celebrating the contribution of African-Americans is no stranger to Spiritans. Across the centuries, Spiritans continue to honor the work and accomplishments of African-American in our missions and parishes across the United States.
From the time of the first provincial of the USA, Fr. Joseph Strub, C.S.Sp., who was a graduate of Africa’s oldest senior seminary in Senegal to the present, ministry among African Americans has been at the heart of the Spiritan ministry priorities. The missions among African-Americans in the Little Rock Diocese gradually extended to Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky and Louisiana where we staffed more than 30 parishes. Our missions among African-Americans expanded to St. Peter Claver Church (Mother Church of Black Catholics in Charleston, SC; founded 1917), St. Mark Church (Mother Church of Black Catholics in Harlem, NY; founded 1912), St. Peter Claver Church (Mother Church of Black Catholics in Philadelphia, PA; founded 1892), St. John the Baptist Church (Mother Church of Black Catholics in Dayton, OH; founded 1894), St. Peter Claver Church (first Black Church in Michigan; founded 1914) and Our Lady Queen of Peace (first parish for African-Americans in Arlington, VA; founded 1945). All of these places were established with the dedication of Black Catholics in these areas. These are only a few highlighted places. Our ministries continued to grow in Chicago, Michigan, Virginia, Maryland and Pittsburgh.
President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans fifty years after that first Black History celebration and the Bicentennial (200 years) of the founding of this nation to “honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Across this nation, many people of every race, language and culture have come to recognize the importance of Black history in the American story. Spiritans through this world are a part of sharing this story through our commitment and presence among the African-American community today. The official government website says that Black History Month is a “tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society.”
Woodson, the founder of Black History month, said the intent should be not to view black history as something separate but as an influential part of the universal picture. “What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice,” he said in 1926.
-From the Provincial Archives of the U.S. Province.