Ponderings of the General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley

Sue Westfall

January 30, 2023




Dear friends,


February 1st begins the celebration of “African American History Month.” Its origin dates back to 1926 when noted historian Dr. Carter Woodson designated a week in February to recognize and celebrate the contributions of African Americans to United States history. He chose the week because it contained the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (Feb 12th) and Frederick Douglass (Feb 14th) both key figures in the emancipation and freedom of enslaved peoples.


In the United States, February has been celebrated as African American History Month by Presidential decree since 1986. And yet, after all these years, one still hears the query, “why do we need a whole month for African American history?” From my perspective, quite simply, it is necessary and will be necessary until African American history and perspectives are as routinely taught in American schools as white history is. Because it is all of us who make up America. And African Americans have played a particularly intimate role in that history. Their labor floated the American economy for several centuries; many historians contend that slavery paid for a substantial share of the capital, iron, and manufactured goods that laid the basis for American economic growth. And yet we learn so little about them or from them because of this neglected history. Who knows inventors George Crum or Shirley Jackson? Who knows scientists Gladys West, Percy Julian, or Katherine Johnson (though some of us know her now through the movie about her, Hidden Figures. Oh, and she was Presbyterian, too). Who knows writers Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston? Our understanding of ourselves as Americans and as human beings has been severely limited and demonically truncated. Yet even still – and perhaps with refreshed vigor – there is a move on to suppress the real history of America and Americans.


As an American patriot and as a Christian, I lament how diminished we all have been by the erasure of so much of African American experience, wisdom, culture, and contribution. And I celebrate this month-long emphasis on restoring some of our history until in all places, all of our history is recognized and held up to the light. We cannot fully participate in the Beloved Community until we come to know the breadth of that community so precious to God.


I’ll let Langston Hughes have the last word of this Pondering, from his poem, I, too, Sing America:


I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.



I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”




They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—


I, too, am America.




As ever in prayer,



Sue Westfall

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