Black Fathers Day

In the spirit of Kwanzaa, I’m proposing a radical alternative to our “normal” celebration of Father’s Day.  In light of the historical and more recent wholesale slaughter of BLACK MEN on the streets of America, I propose that BLACK MEN stop celebrating Father’s Day on the traditional third Sunday of the month. Instead, I further propose, that ALL BLACK FATHER’S begin celebrating Father’s Day on April 4th.  Our NEW (NORMAL) Father’s Day!

NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 10: Martin Luther King Speaking on September 10, 1963 in New York, New York. (Photo by Santi Visalli/Getty images)

Why that day?  You ask.  I’ll explain.  For starters, unlike every other American holiday that’s been imposed on US, by changing the day of observation, ownership of the day is easier and obvious, which will make planning the celebrations – around the country – a true cultural event.  Second, and of equal importance, it was on that day in 1968, a day I’ll never forget, that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. So, in addition to the aforementioned wholesale slaughter of BLACK MEN at the hands (and now knee) of this country’s law enforcement apparatus, and speaking solely to BLACK maleness, the reason Dr. King went to Memphis in the first place was to support striking BLACK sanitation workers – BLACK MEN & FATHERS – working to support their families.  Working a job, no doubt that was tedious, filthy, and oh yeah, “essential” to the well-being and overall health of the entire community.  Furthermore, as explained to me as a young, BLACK man, the very reason WE BLACK MEN TODAY refer to each other as, “MAN,” is directly connected to the signs those bruthas in Memphis carried and wore around their NECK exclaiming, “I AM A MAN!”

As I reflect on traditional American holidays like the 4th of July, aka Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day and even Mother’s Day, I believe an undebatable  argument can be made that each of those – and probably many others – were NOT established with BLACK MEN in mind.  It was not meant for US to share in WHATEVER occasion was being celebrated!  I further assert, in terms of a celebration, if somebody would’ve even bothered to ask US at the time, WE probably would not have agreed that the occasion was even WORTHY of celebrating.  I mean, think about it, the discussions that led to decisions to celebrate and make either of those days a holiday were made “a minute ago,” right?  And whether as a group, or individually, y’all know WE weren’t apart of ANY of those discussions.  Hell, truth-be-told, y’all know WE weren’t even ALLOWED to participate in those kinds of discussions back then.  We just woke up and it was, well, 4th of July and we tried to find some fire-crackers or sparklers.  Remember?  Talk about a time when BLACK LIVES really didn’t MATTER!!  Check this out:

Independence Day:  This speaks for itself. When have BLACK MEN been taken seriously as an independent group in America?  When I think about independence in this country, my consciousness is overwhelmed with images of BLACK Wallstreet, prior to its most recent notoriety.  If anything, I would argue that June 19th, Juneteenth Day, be OUR official Independence Day!  But that’s a discussion for another time.

Memorial Day:  According to Pulitzer Prize winning historian, David Blight’s book, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, “a commemoration organized by freed slaves…took place on May 1, 1865, in Charleston, S.C., at a former planter’s racetrack where Confederates held captured Union soldiers during the last year of the war. At least 257…were buried in unmarked graves…so BLACK residents decided to give them a proper burial.”  A full year BEFORE “…women laid flowers on soldiers’ graves in the Civil War hospital town of Columbus, Mississippi, in April 1866.”  Hence Memorial Day.

Labor Day:  When considering how this particular day has morphed into a celebration of Unions (right alongside the sordid history between BLACK MEN and unions), it’s really disturbing knowing that OUR LABOR plainly BUILT this country.  While for my entire adult life, BLACK MEN, especially in Milwaukee, WI, consistently experience the WORST unemployment rates in America.  Celebrating Labor Day.  Really?????

Mother’s Day:  Seriously??  Sistas, a white woman named Anna Jarvis organized the first official Mother’s Day celebration in 1908 at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia.  West Virginia y’all!!!!  It seceded from the State of Virginia during the civil war, and it was the only state actually formed BECAUSE of the civil war!  Now do y’all really believe that this day was created with y’all in mind?  And y’all was mo mommas to they kids than they was.  But I digress.  

On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Mother’s Day.  He asked Americans…to give a public “thank you” to their mothers.  You think he meant you Queen, or the Queen Mothers before you?  If it took white women six years AFTER the day it was first celebrated to get the day officially recognized by their own country, what makes y’all think it was ever or is currently celebrated with you in mind (other than financially)?

I started this to give ALL BLACK FATHERS something to think about as an alternative to the traditional celebration of Father’s Day.  In addition, the image of fathers in America has changed during my lifetime.  I grew up with images such as Ward Cleaver (1957), Danny Thomas (1954), Ben Cartwright (1957) and Robert Young (in Father Knows Best) (1954).  Those dads were stable, hard-working men with obedient wives and children.  They were depictions of the perfect American family unit, including the single-father headed house-hold ran by patriarch, Ben Cartwright, played by Loren Green.  Those Cartwright boys were well-mannered, disciplined, young men to be emulated.  

I didn’t see an image of a BLACK FATHER on TV until 1974 and 1975 when Good Times, Sanford & Son and The Jeffersons aired in prime-time; more than fifteen years AFTER those images of white, male, father figures were seared into my conscious.  As much as I loved the hard-working, never caught a break, disciplinarian character of James Evans, the wise-cracking, lovable and funny Fred Sanford and the successful, shrewd, and racially proud George Jefferson, who had “moved on up.”  And at the tender age of 14 or 15, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for each of them.  It always seemed as if something was wrong with their lives compared to the lives of the white families I grew up watching on TV.

It wouldn’t be until 1984 that not only me and all of BLACK America, but white America also, would be introduced to its first BLACK FATHER figure who could rival any of those earlier images of fatherhood burned into my brain.  And man did WE love us some Heathcliff and his Huxtable tribe!  A handsome, successful doctor, married to a beautiful, successful attorney with loveable, smart, well-manner children!  According to NBC on Thursday nights, the BLACK FAMILY had arrived and was civil enough to bring straight into America’s living rooms.  The Cosby Show went viral!

I wanted to take y’all on that historical journey through TV-Land to remind you of the images BLACK folks have been force-fed illustrating fathers and fatherhood over the decades.  As a matter of fact, after Heathcliff Huxtable, images of fathers, even of white fathers, in my opinion, took a turn for the worst.  Do the names Al Bundy, Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin (Family Guy), ring a bell?  Not very flattering images of fathers, are they?

It’s unimaginable how any of the above-mentioned white fathers-figures, even the cartoon characters, would ever be cast in a role containing scenes that included the carnage which has come to define the endangered life of today’s BLACK FATHER, who is STILL exclaiming…I AM A MAN!

12 thoughts

  1. I grew up during this same era. I was born in the early 1950’s . I think and feel the time is “now” to make some much needed changes here in the USA. I fully agree and support your proposed change of the date of Fathers Day. Thanks for the time and effort it took to present this information to the public. I support it!

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    1. I truly concur and yet,slowly as the change unfolds we tend to lose sight of the goal. Willingness, is the main ingredient in bringing this about. Particularly, participation is required by all that are concerned essentially.

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  2. We need to understand that only “WE” can make a change in our circumstances. The current push for equality and racial justice must be ongoing inclusive of mindful considerations. We can do that. We also need internal acceptance of community shortcomings that’s leaving many of our young people dead at the hands of our young people. With all the hell we have endured over the past 400 years, we can do both. I truly believe that.

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  3. Awesome!!! Not only did you provide knowledge, you gave a real purpose to “the whys”. I’m excited to see this move FORWARD.

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  4. This article raises an interesting idea. It is well written and researched. The time has come for all of us to re-think the rituals and celebrations that we have unconsciously upheld. Your research points out that we should no longer take these things for granted, as being in honor of everyone. To consciously celebrate people and their achievements could become the new norm. I commend you on thinking ‘outside the box’.

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  5. DOPE…… Dope writing and concept. I agree with you and others that NO “American” holiday was established in consideration of “US” (except for what we fought tooth and nail for; those that others don’t celebrate) . It saddens me that we have had these thoughts, pains, conversations and fights for hundreds of years and WE ESTABLISHED this country. Trick on us or them?
    I vote YES, let’s move collectively.

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  6. Very deep and well thought out arguments that we, as a people, are finally ready to hear. Your arguments hammer home the fact that America, having been built on the backs of our ancestors, DOES NOT include us in any of its foundational “institutions”, especially holidays!

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  7. Terence, excellent extremely well written article! As a people we have historically defined and redefined who we are because we have to, so I like your idea of a black father’s day, just as most “awoke” black people celebrate Juneteenth Day as our “liberation day” and not the 4th of July that did not and continues not to include us! My only hope is that along with any redefinition of days, that we don’t loose the reason to celebrate fathers or mothers, no matter what day is observed! I also strongly believe that we must always honor our fathers and mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, great-grandfathers, great-grandmothers and all of our ancestors before then!

    I grew up with the same TV images as you did, but I also grew up surrounded by strong resilient African-centered black people (family members, neighbors, teachers, doctors, corner store owners, etc.) as examples, just as you did. So no matter what the images on TV we knew better, so I critiqued the absence of black images or the lack of positive black images as ‘something is wrong with the networks, not with us’; ‘something is wrong with white folks thinking, not with us’! We fought for positive black images on TV and every where else because we knew that black lives mattered to black people only! Our government is the lead on violating black folks rights and the reason black folks holocaust is perpetual in this racist ass country! None of this is by accident!

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  8. Terence, you have chronologically & substantially made your case. The analytical thought you gave for choosing the date that you have. By associating or locking in on July 4th a day that rocked this nation & forced many men of color, Black men in particular to decree that they be seen as a man. ” I am a man.”

    You eloquently laid out why Mother’s day was never intended to honor Black mother’s that were only seen as nannies & breast feeders at the bequest of White women who didn’t want to be bothered with the task. It reminded me of Alice Walker rejecting Feminist for womanist which distinguished Black women’s civil rights opposed to White women’s human rights.

    You further explained and perhaps educated others on the origin of Memorial Day and that it wasn’t a thought or even considered by Caucasians or a country who to this day doesn’t wholehearted look at or place value on troops lost. Ask any Vietnam Vets, certainly not Black Vets. Hell, Russia is paying bounties for our Troops in Afghanistan and the President of the United States says it’s a hoax Holding them in memoriam and honoring their service can be owned by neither White men nor country. It is owned by Freed Slaves.

    Frederick Douglas made the argument for the embracing and celebrating of Juneteenth by the Black Man.

    With the unemployment rate of African American males as well as other people of color. Who can argue with that. When you look at the Prison Industrial Complex and its population & the fact that prison labor has taken jobs out of communities of all stripes. Hell they have prisoners now that are no more than sharecroppers. The 1st prison in Wisconsin was a farming operation

    Media in general has a long way to go. I know you referenced television, however, don’t leave out the absence of Black Radio. It was Black radio that was very instrumental in the election of Barack Obama. I digress. Images of Black father’s as you have highlighted still has a ways to go. While programming today is progressing as far as people of color has broadened somewhat, however, not enough. Yet, its diverse cast/ programming today does not have an emphasis on Black fathers. Overall I thought your piece was good.

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