On Black History Month: Why It Remains Essential

February 15, 2021   |   Micheal L. Littlejohn Jr.

In observance of Black History Month, we asked some NCAJ members to reflect on why it is still important to mark this occasion and which historical figures we know too little about.

Member Micheal L. Littlejohn Jr. shares his thoughts below.

I believe Black History is important because it is, in essence, America’s history. While informative, relegating the history of black and brown people to a month does not do justice for the extraordinary contributions of black and brown people in America. However, for people who may not be as aware of Black History, this month should invite people, regardless of race, to become intentional about the history they learn that extends far greater than Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman. Black and brown people across the country have led the way for groundbreaking technology and have advanced social causes through courageous efforts in art, sports, press, activism, entertainment, literature, etc. There has been a push in some places across the nation to remove Black History Month from the curriculum, which shows that, now more than ever, it is essential that we all become intentional in our understanding of America’s history. I believe one of the challenges we’re facing today in our country is rooted in our failure to acknowledge this country’s history. Therefore, Black History needs to be acknowledged and preserved, especially in February.

Tell us about a Black historical figure whose story should be more widely known.

Thereasea Clark Elder, Mecklenburg County’s first Black public health nurse. Elder played a significant role in integrating Mecklenburg County’s Public Health Department. Elder’s early career began as a nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital, which was segregated and served only Black patients. In 1962, she joined the Mecklenburg County Health Department as its first and only Black nurse. Read more here:

Elder was both a pillar and voice for Charlotte’s Black community in many ways — she registered Black voters and preserved Charlotte’s Black history. She volunteered with local and state organizations, including the Greenville Historical Association, the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women, and the American Red Cross’s Greater Carolinas Chapter. As a black nurse in Charlotte, Elder endured racism and harassment. Initially, she was hired to serve only the county’s Black residents, but a decade later, the county health department’s racist policy was changed, and she began serving white families. Mrs. Elder made it her mission to improve the health of the Black community. During a time period where COVID-19 continues to run rampant, we need to value our essential workers, especially nurses. As such, I thought it was only fitting to highlight Mrs. Elder as a trailblazer in public health.

Other trailblazers that come to mind are Dr. Charles Sifford, Attorney J. Charles Jones, Lorraine Hansberry, among others. I encourage people to follow @mlittlejohnjr and @littlejohnlawpllc on Instagram for more history and insight!