It’s Black History Month—and in classrooms around the country, children have been learning about famous African Americans and their contributions to our culture. That’s a good thing. But there’s one thing most kids have not been learning about many of these famous men and women: that is, their Christian faith and how it motivated their lives and their work.
For instance, Sojourner Truth is often identified as a women’s rights advocate and abolitionist. Overlooked is the source of Sojourner’s fiery devotion to human rights: That was her commitment to Jesus Christ. "The Lord gave me the name Sojourner," she declared, "because I was to travel up and down the land, showing people their sins, and being a sign unto them." At age eighty-eight, her dying words were, "Follow the Lord Jesus."
And then there’s Rosa Parks. Many people know the story of the seamstress who helped ignite the modern civil rights movement. But far fewer people know that Parks is a devout Christian and that it was her faith that gave her the strength to do what she did that day in 1955. "Since I have always been a strong believer in God," she says, "I knew that He was with me, and only He could get me through that next step"—that is, refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man.
Our kids have also been hearing a lot about Jackie Robinson’s quiet dignity in the face of racial bigotry on the ball field. But many don’t realize the source of Robinson’s ability to turn the other cheek: It was his faith in Jesus Christ. During his ten years with the Dodgers, he endured racist remarks, death threats, and unfair calls by umpires. But Robinson’s faith helped him keep his anger in check. Every night, he got on his knees and prayed for self-control.
Most people know that George Washington Carver was a chemist and agronomist. Born a slave in 1860, Carver rose to become director of agricultural research at Tuskegee University in Alabama. He is remembered for developing 118 derivative products from sweet potatoes and 300 from peanuts—including my favorite food, peanut butter. Thanks to his efforts, by 1940, peanuts were the second largest cash crop in the South. But go to his name in the encyclopedia, and you’ll find no reference to the most important aspect of his life: how his faith in God inspired his creativity.
"I didn’t make these discoveries," Carver once said. "God has only worked through me to reveal to His children some of His wonderful providence."
Stories like these are a reminder of what a central role the Christian faith has played in the lives of many great Americans. We Christians need to reclaim our cultural heritage from those who seem intent on deleting it from history books—and from Black History Month celebrations. So I urge you: Before the month ends, make sure your own kids learn about the abiding faith of Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, George Washington Carver, and, of course, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. And consider donating some of the good biographies written about these people to local schools and libraries—biographies that tell the whole story.
Our kids deserve to know, not only of African-American contributions to science, politics, and culture, but also of those individuals’ commitments to Christ.