In 1926 historian Carter G. Woodson declared that the second week in February should be commemorated as “Negro History Week.” This week was chosen because in that year it marked the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick C. Douglass. Fifty years later, as part of America’s Bicentennial celebration in 1976, President Gerald Ford proclaimed that from then on February would officially be observed as “Black History Month.” Eight years after that, in 1984, Altadena Baptist Church had its first “Black History Celebration,” and for the thirty years since then, this event has drawn the largest crowd of the year at the church. The 2014 celebration will be held Sunday, February 16, 5:00 pm, and will feature as speaker Dr. Eric G. Walsh, Pasadena’s Director of Public Health.

Every group’s history is important, but this is especially true for African-Americans. For more than two hundred years, white owners did everything in their power to erase all genealogical information about their slaves. They thought by doing this they would force them to be more docile and dependent. Families were intentionally separated, and speaking in tribal languages of their homeland was forbidden. Slaves were given the family surnames of their owners to further reduce any thoughts of independent identity.

Many modern African-Americans have a great deal of curiosity about their pre-slavery heritage and culture. Unable to identify tribal or national origins, they have found significance in things generically African. However, in recent years, the rapid development of DNA technology has made it possible for some to have searches done which can lead them even to a particular river valley where fifteen generations ago a family of their relatives lived and successfully raised their children. That can be very exciting.

As a surprising bonus from the same DNA research, it has become clear to anthropologists that the earliest humans who lived on earth called Africa their home. So, we are all from Africa, if we look back far enough. Non-African-Americans should not see the Black History Celebration as “their thing,” because we’re all part of the “they.”

Thinking about the earliest humans led me back to the fourth chapter of Genesis, where the generations descending from Adam and Eve are described in a fascinating way. Various individuals are seen as symbols of the major ways in which people all over the world have related to each other and their environment:

Abel was a “keeper of sheep” (shepherd) (4:2).

Cain was a “tiller of the ground” (farmer) (4:2).

Cain later “built a city” and named it “Enoch” after his first son (city-dweller) (4:17).

Jabal “was the ancestor of those who live in tents and have livestock” (nomads) (4:20).

Jubal “was the ancestor of all who play the lyre and pipe” (musicians) (4:21).

Tubal-cain “made all kinds of bronze and iron tools” (manufacturer) (4:22).

It seems that all of global human history is embodied in these iconic figures, from the building of great cities to the industrial revolution, with even an acknowledgment of the importance professional artists, such as musicians.

This chapter climaxes with two contrasting figures. There is boastful Lamech, the prototypical sociopathic serial killer, who may be seen as representing all the wars and oppression throughout human history (4:23-24). And by contrast, the spiritually-sensitive Seth who symbolized the beginning of the religious impulse: “At that time, people began to invoke the name of the Lord” (4:26).

Part of what we are trying to say through our Black History Celebration at ABC is that we believe, in the end, Lamech (the slave-trader, the race-supremacist, the economic oppressor) will have to give in to Seth (the spiritual insight, the Gospel power, the “soul” of African-American people). It is our Christian faith that, by God’s grace, Seth will always trump Lamech.

— Pastor George Van Alstine