As we approach the middle of February we pause to recognize Black History Month, what it represents and why it is so important.

Black history is American history. For far too many years this part of American history was overlooked, disregarded or brushed aside. For many, the story is too difficult to tell, the wounds too deep.

That is what comes with three centuries of oppression. The country anchored by “We the People,” deemed one race only three-fifths of a person for generations.

Beginning in 1926, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) sponsored a national Negro History week. They opted for the second week in February, which matched with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. By the late 1960s, it had evolved into Black History Month. President Gerald Ford officially recognized the month in 1976. Ford said the month gave Americans “the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

We all know the stories — and we should — of Crispus Attucks, Douglass, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama. There are hundreds of thousands of stories just as important, just as vital to making the America we live in today.

Do you know who Edward McKnight Brawley is? He was Bucknell University’s first black graduate, back in 1875. Brawley went on to become a religious scholar and was president of what is now Selma University in Alabama. His is an American story of a black man from Charleston, South Carolina, graduating from a college in central Pennsylvania a decade after the Civil War. There are thousands of stories like that we don’t know, powerful stories of overcoming obstacles to map out a future in this country.

America today seems to be going in the wrong direction, at least in terms of the “united” part of the United States. Much of the division is driven by race.

We are supposed to be beyond this. We’re not. More than five decades after Dr. King dreamt of a nation where his children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Black History Month helps us learn how we got here and where we need to go. This history isn’t always comfortable. The unsanitized version never is. But it’s how we got to this place in time.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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