“No man knows what he can do until he tries.” –Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro
It’s officially Black History Month! This month we celebrate, in greater concentration, the phenomenal acknowledgement and representation of Black People in America.
I especially love this time of year because I get to experience potent lectures, panels, movie screenings, plays, performances, etc. with the common thread of showcasing Black excellence.
This is also the time of year in which I get to read commentaries on how Black History Month is racist and unnecessary since Blacks have not been the only contributors to America’s prominence, and because America has moved beyond slavery. Some of these arguments make me laugh and others just lead me to shake my head; none of these arguments ever get to the core of understanding how America gained the leverage to attract others’ continual immigration and pursuit of opportunity in America in the first place.
Black people have evolved the human race and some still insist on resisting this evolution.
“The bondage of the Negro brought captive from Africa is one of the greatest dramas in history, and the writer who merely sees in that ordeal something to approve or condemn fails to understand the evolution of the human race.” –Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro
I support that other races and ethnicities have contributed greatly to our America; Marcus Garvey’s work influenced one of America’s greatest, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X), many Chinese workers constructed the trans-continental Railroad, and Hispanics like Cesar Chavez worked tirelessly for the advancement of Hispanics as they continue to come to America. But like historian and Black History Month Founder Carter G. Woodson, I also support that Black Americans have been terribly misrepresented, underrepresented, and ignored as contributors in the greater American success story.
In 1926, the Virginia historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History which he founded, began Negro History Week to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. By 1976 (such a great year), Negro History Week had become federally recognized as Black History Month.
Carter G. Woodson was an academic who found it imperative for Black American history to serve a greater role within school curricula.
“As another has well said, to handicap a student by teaching him that his black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worst sort of lynching.” –Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro
He was a self-proclaimed radical; and, Woodson was a fearless man who was relentless in his pursuit to honor the contributions of Black America using the expertise he had gained from his education in Berea College, the University of Chicago, and Harvard University. Mr. Woodson eventually wrote his acclaimed, The Mis-Education of the Negro in 1933 which has sold over a million copies and has been in print for 81 years.
He had numerous teaching stints in places like the Philippines and the prestigious Howard University. His greatest influencers, besides the history of his own parents’ enslavement and perseverance, were the relationships he developed with other self-determined Blacks like W.E.B DuBois, Arturo Schomburg, and what he felt he had not been learned properly about Black Americans.
There are institutions and organizations worldwide that celebrate and continue his work; my very own alma mater, Virginia State University, has a Carter G. Woodson Avenue on which sits our United States Department of Agriculture supported building, named in honor of the first Black governor of Virginia and any state since Reconstruction, Mr. Douglas Wilder.
American economics and politics were created as a result of the presence and citizenship of Black Americans, since colonial times. In the midst of the state’s rights argument was the issue of how states would be represented in Congress–that argument was fixed through the passing of the Three-Fifths Compromise. From Jamestown to the Constitution, from the Black Farmers to the Prison Pipeline conundrum plaguing urban communities to President Obama, there is more to learn about Black Americans than the untruths foreigners learn and bring with them to America. There’s more to learn about Black Americans than the scornful, resentful sentiment other Americas cast in our direction.
To love America is to acknowledge Black Americans.
Through Carter G. Woodson’s efforts, he has left an enduring and persistent legacy in how I define Black Americans.
- An elite and small group of descendants of indigenous Africans (mostly of Western Africa); native people BORN in the United States of America due to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade;
- NOT immigrants; Citizens.
- Architects and maintainers of America’s infrastructure; preservers of America’s food bank; innovators of American culture; creators of America’s multitudinous opportunities.
- Inheritors of racism, discrimination, prejudice, black codes, Jim Crow, the New Jim Crow, the Prison Industrial Complex, mandatory sentencing drug laws, and all other disparate American behaviors; Stalwarts.
- Reflectors of why America is NOT a “more perfect Union.”
- Americans; Survivors;
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