By Denise Oliver Velez / Daily Kos
Carter G. Woodson, historian and the father of “Negro History Week,” died in 1950, and did not live to see Black History Month, which started at Kent State in 1970 and was signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1976.
Woodson chose February as the month in which to celebrate because it contained both the births of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and of President Abraham Lincoln. One wonders what Woodson would think of the commemoration today.
I would guess that he would be proud to see it has become a part of the nationwide curriculain schools, and the focus of events celebrated by government agencies and community groups across the nation, but that he would also criticize the lack of progress we have made in erasing the continued stereotyping and denigration of both Africans on the continent and their descendants in the diaspora.
There are those who argue that a month dedicated to black history is no longer necessaryand that it promotes “racial separation,” that it should simply become a part of American or world history classes. Although I have argued that “Black History is American History,” as long as it is taught as simply a montage of slavery, Harriet Tubman, a short mention of civil rights starring Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, segueing into “We now have a black president,” it will fall short of Woodson’s deep-seated commitment to reversing several hundred years of negative narratives, and huge gaps in the historical record. Those same naysayers resist and are attempting to eliminate the academic disciplines of African-American, Latino, Native-American, Asian-American, Women’s, and LGBT/Queer studies.
Black History, properly taught would have never allowed my fifth-grade teacher to give me an “F” for stating that Egypt is in Africa. Africa, for too many, still remains the Dark Continent. We are almost never taught about black contributions to European history. If it was taught, my students would know that one of the world’s most published “French” novelists was African-ancestored and that his paternal grandmother was a slave in Saint-Domingue (Haiti). I never learned in school that the president of Mexico who abolished slavery in 1829 was African-ancestored as well, nor was I taught that Haitians fought in our American Revolution.
Black History is not just a matter of pointing out struggles against slavery and racism in the South. There is still a tendency to ignore slavery in the north, and northern profits from the slave trade, depicted in the documentary film, Traces of the Trade:
In Traces of the Trade, Producer/Director Katrina Browne tells the story of her forefathers, the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. Given the myth that the South is solely responsible for slavery, viewers will be surprised to learn that Browne’s ancestors were Northerners. The film follows Browne and nine fellow family members on a remarkable journey which brings them face-to-face with the history and legacy of New England’s hidden enterprise.
From 1769 to 1820, DeWolf fathers, sons and grandsons trafficked in human beings. They sailed their ships from Bristol, Rhode Island to West Africa with rum to trade for African men, women and children. Captives were taken to plantations that the DeWolfs owned in Cuba or were sold at auction in such ports as Havana and Charleston. Sugar and molasses were then brought from Cuba to the family-owned rum distilleries in Bristol. Over the generations, the family transported more than ten thousand enslaved Africans across the Middle Passage. They amassed an enormous fortune. By the end of his life, James DeWolf had been a U.S. Senator and was reportedly the second richest man in the United States.
Black history includes black cowboys (not just in Blazing Saddles).
As part of both women’s history and black history, Shirley Chisholm is now honored as being the first black woman to run for the nomination for president in 1972, but Charlene Mitchell, who was the first in 1968, though not from a major party, is ignored.
Black contributions to LGBT history are just beginning to be acknowledged.
Black contributions to music, dance, and sports are three areas that have not been hidden and are lauded worldwide, but in the area of science, invention, math, and medicine, names likeLewis Howard Latimer (carbon filaments in lightbulbs), Daniel Hale Williams, (a pioneer of open heart surgery), and David Blackwell (Rao–Blackwell theorem), are not household names. However, here at Daily Kos, sephius1 writes an ongoing series for Black Kos Week in Review, “African American Scientists and Inventors.”
We still have a lot of teaching to do.
Take a few minutes to explore some online Black history quizzes compiled by PBS, and see how well you do. They cover a wide range of areas including:
Black History: Quiz
The 13th Amendment: Quiz
Black Arts and Culture: Quiz
Freedom Summer: Quiz
The year was 1964, and Mississippi was ablaze with fires of inequality and racially motivated violence. During a 10-week period known as “Freedom Summer,” members of multiple civil rights organizations worked tirelessly to integrate the state’s political system and draw attention to its segregationist practices. Test your knowledge about one of the most influential events of the Civil Rights Movement.
So how did you do?
Originally posted at Daily Kos