Missouri law doesn’t officially recognize Black History Month — a fact that surprised several Black state lawmakers this week.
“I had to double and triple check it because I thought I was seeing things incorrectly at first,” said Rep. Mark Sharp, D- Kansas City, during a Monday meeting of the House Special Committee on Urban Issues.
The state has designated days honoring several prominent Black figures, such as Rosa Parks and John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil, the first African American who coached in Major League Baseball. But state law doesn’t designate February as Black History Month.
Sharp is sponsoring a bill to change that and make Missouri the seventh state to officially recognize February as Black History Month – joining Alaska, California, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, and South Carolina. Sharp said he wasn’t aware of how many other states had passed such measures, but he and others were disappointed that Missouri wasn’t among them.
“When you told me about it, it was a shocker that it wasn’t something we already recognized,” Rep. Rasheen Alridge, D-St. Louis, told Sharp during the hearing.
Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson, said legislators had just recognized Black History Month on the floor that day.
“I think everyone in that chamber realizes that Black History Month should be recognized in the state,” Sharp said.
Sharp also believes state law should require Black History Month to be recognized in every public school. He’s filed a separate bill that would require every public school to devote at least one class period in February to curriculum or activities honoring “the struggles and triumphs of Black Americans throughout the history of the United States.”
However, Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate have listed among their top legislative priorities bills that would ban “curriculum implementing critical race theory” in public schools, specifically citing The 1619 Project of the New York Times and several other projects focused on Black history.
Despite the concerns over critical race theory, Sharp doesn’t foresee much pushback on either of his bills.
“I think people realize that I’m doing this not to invite a CRT discussion,” he said, “but really to just lock in something that we’re already currently doing.”