Did you know Black History Month got its start in 1926 as a week set aside to honor African-American contributions to American history? Every U.S. president since 1976 has officially designated February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, have followed the United States’ lead and devoted a month to celebrating black history.
Black history, like all history, isn’t just about dates and facts; it’s about people making a difference in each others’ lives.
Take the story of John Price. Price ran away from a slaveholder in Kentucky when he was sixteen and found his way to Oberlin, Ohio, where he settled among the welcoming townspeople. Oberlin was a stop on the Underground Railroad, a vast network of people from the South to Canada, who opened their homes and risked their lives to help slaves escape to freedom. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, bounty-hunters often roamed the streets of towns like Oberlin, looking for runaway slaves.
One September morning in 1858, when Price was eighteen, he was captured by bounty hunters and held in a hotel in the nearby town of Wellington to wait for a southbound train. When the people of Oberlin heard of Price’s capture, they rushed to Wellington, stormed the hotel, and freed the young man. Price was hidden at the home of an Oberlin College professor until his safe passage to Canada could be assured.
History doesn’t remember the names of all the people who freed John Price. All we know is that some were farmers and some were businessmen, some were slaves and some were free, and some were black and some were white. But they were all Americans, ordinary people who cared enough to help.
This Black History Month, as we take the time to honor the contributions of African-Americans, let’s remember the spirit of residents of Oberlin, people who looked past color and class distinctions and came together, with kindness and caring, to make the world a better place.