Black Heritage Month
by Claude Nikondeha and Martin Ross, Captain –
Black Heritage Month started in February 1926 in the local Washington D.C. and Baltimore school systems. The tribute debuted as “Negro History Week” initiated by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the director and founder of an organization called the Association of Negro Life and History.
The major purpose of this February celebration is to examine the rich history and cultures developed by people of African decent and to defend black humanity while fighting racism. In 1976, the Association of African American Life and History ratified the weeklong celebration to a month long commemoration that is now recognized nationwide.
Early Salvationist pioneers and leaders in America such as James Jermy (1872, preacher of African descent, who opened a Booth Christian Mission in Cleveland, Ohio), and commissioners in charge of U.S. operations such as Railton, Moore, Smith, and Ballington and Maud Booth, made concerted efforts to evangelize African Americans. Commissioner Frank Smith stated, “as representatives of the great Salvation Army in America, whose mission it is to raise up the fallen and to bring the consolation of the power of God into the lives of those who are outcast, nothing seem[s](ed) more natural and necessary than that our eyes should be turned towards the colored millions of this continent” (Smith p. 135).
Notable African American activist and scholar Booker T. Washington in his letter says, “I am very glad…The Salvation Army is going to undertake work among my people…I have always had the greatest respect for…The Salvation Army, especially because I have noted that it draws no color lines” (Washington). However, today, despite early efforts, African American presence in the Army is limited and ever so needed for our Christ centered evangelistic efforts in the communities that we serve.
Greater need today
Today there exists an even greater need for officers, soldiers, and friends of African decent in the Army in America. Through greater diversity, coupled with a “blood and fire” spirit, we can take our Salvation Army involvement with the African American beyond the context of social services to a more genuine spiritual fellowship and worship with God within our part of the body of Christ.
Lt. Col. Abraham Johnson, then major, in his February 1988 Eastern Territory Good News article commenting on the territory’s Black Ministry Consultation Conference states, “We as black Salvationists, must lead the way to showing The Salvation Army that there is truly one Army, not a black or white, Oriental or Hispanic Army but one God-fearing Army, with a cultural richness that reflects God’s total creative ability. I believe in the ministry of the Army, and I believe, as people of color we have a definite stake in this future ministry.”