On The Struggle for Black History

      Dr. Carter G. Woodson: Father of Afro-American Histography

Why Afro-American History is Still Suppressed

Although most Americans are oblivious to it; February is Black History Month.  In black communities all across the nation it is a time for celebrating the struggles and achievements of our great ancestors. It began as “Negro History Week,” when it was established by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926, and was extended into black history month during the turbulent 1960’s.

Woodson, who held a PhD in history from Harvard, founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 – a period when the public crucifixion of black people called “lynching” had averaged one every two and a half days since 1882 – in an effort to rescue the race from extinction in America.  And like the Civil Rights/Labor Leader A. Phillip Randolph, Woodson believed that his efforts should be financed by black people themselves.

Hence Dr. Woodson sold memberships to the Association and the members got a regular Negro History Bulletin with facinating facts about the accomplishments of their race.  Black people of all nationalities and classes bought memberships.  It was the most successful example of academic entreprenuership that I know of.  To read an indepth portrait of Dr. Woodson check out the book “Reconsidering The Souls of Black Folk,” by Playthell Benjamin and Stanley Crouch, Running Press, Philadelphia and London 2003.

A voluntary group of professional scholars – black and white – the Association was dedicated to excavating and publishing the history of African Americans, employing state of the art research methods. And the next year, 1916, Dr. Woodson established the Journal of Negro History to publish the findings of the new historians he was training for peer review and public consumption.  All of the great black historians who came of age in the first half of the twentieth century studied with Dr. Woodson; among them the Harvard trained PhD’s Rayford Logan and John Hope Franklin.  See “The Place of Carter G. Woodson in American Historiography,” by Dr. John Hope Franklin.

Dr. William Edward Burghardt Dubois

The Father of Black Studies

Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, the first Afro-America to earn a Harvard PhD and wrote the first modern scientific history based on an African American theme – The Suppression of the African slave Trade  in 1896 – spoke of Dr. Woodson in heroic terms.  

Woodson literally made this country, which has only the slightest respect for people of color, recognize and celebrate each year, a week in which it studied the effect which the American Negro has upon life, thought, and action in the United States. I know of no one man who in a lifetime has, unaided, built up such a national celebration.”

Dr. Woodson dedicated his life to setting the record straight regarding the Afro-American contribution to American civilization because he was convinced that our survival depended on it.  Looking around the world at the destruction of the native Americans, the growing extinction of the Australian Aborigines, the Maori people of New Zealand, and the atrocities of King Leopold in the Congo that moved Mark Twain to denounce him and catalogue his horreddous crimes in “The Soliloquy Of King Leopold,” Woodson concluded that a world that thought itself “civilized” tolerated genocide against these peoples because they were considered sub-human, and therefore expendable in the advance of Western Civilization.

Although the world has turned upside down since then, those who argue that  Black History Month Celebrations is an anachronism, a relic from another world that has outlived its usefulness in a nation with a black First Family, are tragically mistaken.  Some whites are openly hostile to the teaching of Afro-American history, or the history of any of the non-white ethic groups that make up the US population.  In fact, Arizona has just passed a law banning teaching the history of the Hispanic people who were the original inhabitants of the state. This is no accident.

For the purveyors of white supremacy and the false doctrine of “American Exceptionalism,” teaching the history of black folks, Native Americans, Puerto-Ricans, Mexicans, et al, is self-defeating.  The history of these groups document the criminal history of “White Supremacy” and contradicts the master narrative of American civilization as the “land of the free and home of the brave where all men are born equal,” upon which white America’s claim to exceptionalism is based.

Hence when Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum get teary eyed recounting how their immigrant ancestors found freedom and unlimited opportunity to prosper in this land of the free; I am reminded that this is a country founded on genocide and chattel slavery – practices the ex-slave intellectual, abilitionist activist/orator and gifted writer Frederick Douglass said “would disgrace a nation of savages.”  These events has defined the character of American civilization as much as the crafting of the US Constitution in the summer of 1787.

That’s why the history of black people continues to be suppressed….and that’s why we must continue the fight to see it taught in every institution of learning in this country; especially those that receive public funding!  The fate of the nation may yet depend upon it!

Frederick Douglass: Abolitionist and Public Intellectual

The Premiere Moral Clarion of 19th Century America!

 

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Playthell Benjamin

Harlem, New York

February 8, 2012  

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