Continued Dedicated Study; A Month of Celebrations; Liberation Everyday
OUR COMMON GROUND BLACK HISTORY NOTE
"When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his "proper place" and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary."
-- Dr. Carter G. Woodson, "The Miseducation of the Negro"
REMEMBERING, RECALLING AND COMPREHENDING THE JOURNEY OF AFRICANS COME TO AMERICA
W H Y B L A C K H I S T O R Y M O N T H ?
By Sean Gonsalves
Woodson, whose best-known book "The Miseducation of the Negro," was born in 1875 in Buckingham County, Virginia. The son of former slaves, he worked in mines and quarries until the age of 20 when he decided that his mind would be a terrible thing to waste -- long before the sentiment became a slogan for the United Negro College Fund.
Woodson received his high school diploma at the age of 22 and went on to get a master's degree in history from the University of Chicago. In 1912, Woodson received a doctorate in history from Harvard.
Unable to land a teaching post at the elite university because Harvard wasn't hiring black professors, Woodson went to teach at one of the nation's leading black colleges, Howard University.
In 1915, Woodson became the director of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. A year later he was named editor of the association's scholarly quarterly, "The Journal of Negro History."
Woodson believed the study of black history, using the tools of scholarly research and writing, could serve a dual purpose. It could be used to counter white racial chauvinism, which was used to rationalize the oppression of black people in America.
The distortions and deletions in the American historical record as it pertains to race matters, Woodson believed, was detrimental to the health of a nation whose inherent promise is life, liberty and justice for all.
Perhaps more importantly, Woodson knew that in a society where black intelligence and moral worth is incessantly demeaned and devalued, studying black history would serve as a psychological defense shield for black students against the assaults of white supremacy.
So he embarked on a quest to establish a national celebration of black heritage. In 1926, Negro History Week was born.
"Besides building self-esteem among blacks, (Black History Week) would help eliminate prejudice among whites," Woodson concluded.
It wasn't until after the civil rights movement of the 1960s that Black History Week was taken seriously outside of the educated black community and expanded into Black History Month.
February was chosen as Black History Month because the birthdays of the esteemed black abolitionist Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln fall during that month. It's also the month the NAACP was founded. It just so happens that February is the shortest and one of the coldest months of the year.
So how come there is no official White History Month? In the words of a Tulane University Black History Month Web site, "a White History Month is not needed because the contributions of whites are already acknowledged by society. Black History Month is meant to remedy this inequity of representation."
Of course, if standard U.S. history curriculum did a better job of teaching both the tragic and triumphant aspects of the expansion of democratic freedoms on this continent and its inextricable link to Americans of black African descent, then a Black History Month would be wholly unnecessary.
But when educated Americans at the dawn of the 21st century make statements like: My grandparents were immigrants who faced discrimination and made it. Why can't blacks? All societies had slaves. Besides, some blacks were sold into slavery by black Africans -- it's clear to anyone familiar with the history of white-skin privilege in America that Black History Month has not outlived its usefulness.
This isn't to deny the importance of individual initiative or to lay a guilt-trip on white brothers and sisters for every failure in the black community. On the other hand, black social mobility, (or lack thereof) cannot be understood without understanding the devastating impact of not only two centuries of slavery but a hundred years of organized, state-supported attacks on "free" black communities after slavery.
For sure, there have been many blacks who have overcome the odds, which is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. But those blacks who have "succeeded" did so in spite of white-skin privilege; not because of it.
Instead of asking why can't blacks make it -- a grossly imprecise question that ignores the significant achievements of thousands of African-Americans -- we'd do better to ask: what obstacles have impeded the economic, political and social development of many black Americans? To candidly answer that complex question, the study of black history is inescapable.
-- An article published by The Black World Today