It’s February and this is the time of year where the United states and Canada nationally recognize the achievements and advancements of Africans in American history and society.
There was a time when Africans in America were nothing more than cattle, property and as the constitution defined us “3/5 of a person.” In 1787 at the United States Constitutional Convention delegates from the northern and southern states made this compromise to make it easier among themselves to determine individual states actual population for taxation and representation purposes. They needed to figure out how many delegates each states should have in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next 10 years. Just as they have tried to use us for our votes since giving us rights, we were used to help secure southern superiority in the Senate. Southern slaveholders would have more control by using their slaves to boost the population, thus getting them more seats and more pull in the government.
The Three-Fifths Compromise, is found in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution and reads:
“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”
Only after the Civil War, in 1865 when the 13th Amendment made slavery illegal, did Africans in America gain the right to be a whole person. The 14th Amendment follows up and changes the constitution to specify that there are no longer people that are not a percentage of a person by stating that “representatives shall be apportioned … counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.”
It’s no secret that the reconstruction era was extremely hard for Africans in America. Even though we had become people legally, there were new laws enacted to limit our growth and progress. We had been robbed of our history and heritage already, even our names. We were a lost bunch of Africans in America, now free our captors but not returned to our homeland. Once we were no longer property we were a list of degrading names, We NEVER again became what we once were, African, IN America. We had to become Americanized. We went from ni#@er to Negro to Black to African American.
Author, editor, publisher, and historian Carter G. Woodson was born in 1875 and was the son of former slaves. Woodson studied at Berea College, the University of Chicago, the Sorbonne, and Harvard University, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1912. Three years after graduation Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History to train Black historians and to collect, preserve, and publish documents on Black life and Black people. In 1927 he started Negro History Week. By 1937 he had also founded the Journal of Negro History, Associated Publishers, and the Negro Bulletin. Carter G. Woodson devoted his life to making sure people recognized the achievements of Africans in America.
Carter G. Woodson was noted for saying “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.” That statement rings of 100% truth and can be recognized easily in today’s society over 60 years after his death. He credits his father with teaching him “learning to accept insult, to compromise on principle, to mislead your fellow man, or to betray your people, is to lose your soul.”
Carter G. Woodson is the father of Black History Month which was originally Negro History Week. Woodson took it upon himself to write the history of Black Americans contributions to society. Negro History Week was originally the second week of February because it was the birth week of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, who both influenced the Black population greatly.
The initial primary intent of Negro History Week was to encourage the coordination teaching of the history of American blacks in the nation’s public school system. Even though only 3 states and 2 cities which were Baltimore and Washington, D.C., cooperated. Woodson saw it as an immense triumph for Black Americans. By 1929 Woodson was able to announce that minus 2 states, State Departments of Educations of “every state with considerable Negro population” had adopted the official distributed material to teach the history of Black Americans during Negro History Week.
In 1969 The Black Students United at Kent State University proposed that a week was not long enough to acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of Blacks in America. They suggested it should be extended to a week long celebration. The following year they had their first Black History Month celebration on campus. In 1976, as the United States celebrated it’s bicentennial, President Gerald Ford encouraged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Black History Month was officially created.
Yearly there is an outcry about the “fairness” of Black History Month and the validity of focusing on the history of one race for any one month. The OTHER 11 months there is no outcry to change the textbooks to INCLUDE more of our history. The OTHER 11 months of the year Black Americans and their achievements are rarely mentioned in school. Books by Black authors are rarely on the required reading list outside of ” I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” During the school year how many of you see your children come home with a report or teachings that show how important Black Americans are to society? It basically FORCES the need for Black History Month when 89 years AFTER the inception we are still being excluded in the general education of Americans.
Dr. Woodson often said that he hoped the time would come when Negro History Week would be unnecessary; when all Americans would willingly recognize the contributions of Black Americans as a legitimate and integral part of the history of this country. Yet 89 years after the first celebration of Negro History Week not only is it still necessary but in My opinion, we as a nation, have gone backwards. One would think that after 89 years pointing out that Africans in America have been such an integral part of American History that it would be INCLUDED in American History. When we look at the fact that we have Black History Month still, one would wonder what our children are being taught the remainder of the school year. If we focus one month of the year on paying attention to the major contribution of any members of society, does that mean the rest of the year we are focused on what OTHER sects of society have achieved?
I have a 15 year old son who is currently going through the process of being spoon fed the same predetermined, non threatening, Black leaders and notables. My son is taught about Martin Luther King yearly but NOT Brother Malcolm. Brother Malcolm spoke truths that America would like to forget. Brother Martin practically begged us to love our oppressor, to turn the other cheek as they beat us, degraded us, killed us. He believed that we could overcome hate with love. We, as a whole society, have come so far but I doubt today’s society, with someone like Donald Trump gaining such a large following, that Dr. King would say his dream had been realized. My son is not taught about Desmond Tutu, Marcus Garvey, Carter G. Woodson and other Black notables who would encourage him to stand and fight for change.
Every year My son is taught that his history begins with being brought on a slave ship from Africa. My son, your children, are not taught that they come from a rich land. They are not taught that they are the descendants of kings and queens. Our children are not taught that Africa is a beautiful continent, they are taught that it is a destitute jungle. If the school system properly taught Black history every February would it mean having to explain to the children of European descent that almost everything they had been taught about the African race has been a lie? How would they explain to these young impressionable minds that they have spent years building a systematic cycle of oppression by hiding the accomplishment of Africans in our society. How would they explain to these children that every white Egyptian king and queen in a movie was a lie? How would they explain the pyramids?
89 years later after the first Negro History Week why is there still a need for Black History month? Furthermore why every year during the month of February are we inundated with other things we are supposed to talk about and support for weeks? Every February we have the Superbowl, the Oscars, The Grammy’s and Valentines Day. With so much of this in the news how much Black History do you hear about? I live in Baltimore and other than what the museums, mainly the Black museums do, the only thing we hear about regularly is the Martin Luther King oratory contest. I thought the contest was a national one until I started the research for this article. In doing my research however I’ve discovered its not a national contest but done individually in many, but not all states. As I googled I would see some places on the 16th annual MLK Oratory contest while some are only on their 6th.
89 years ago when Carter G Woodson started Negro History week it was for US. It was NEEDED because we had NOTHING. We had all European history being taught to us and because were more localized and there was no internet, we may not have known the accomplishments Black Americans were making in other cities, states and countries. Children only know what they are taught and if the history they are taught only shows them one aspect of themselves then won’t they grow up conditioned to see themselves as no better than that. Woodson made it a point to have information distributed nationally that everyone, each child, would be taught how great Black Americans could be. That we were not uneducated, meant only for menial work; we are thinkers, inventors, authors.
I would love for My son to be taught more about Benjamin Banneker, W.E.B. DuBois, Gwendolyn Brooks, Henry Sampson, and Sarah Goode, who became the first Black woman to hold a U.S. patent in 1885. I would love for ALL children in the U.S. to be taught the history of ALL Americans. We didn’t ask to be here but we are, Black Americans are a valuable and viable resource to America. We practically built it, we invented many of the things that are used daily in today’s’ society from the cell phone to the traffic light to the mailbox. Black history in America is American history it can not continue to be separated and half taught, it can not consist of teaching the same 5 people every year. It can not continue to assert the impression that the Black American is an afterthought when it comes to American History. Unless we let it that is. Black history is American history and should be taught year round in the schools, parents and educators alike should be demanding that we have new up to date textbooks and curriculum to reflect the Black Americans history as it truly stands in America. Furthermore if we as Black Americans expect those who benefit from our oppression to TEACH us about those who tried to show us a way out, to refer us to books that would show us another way of life rather than the one they want us to live, then we deserve the lackluster history lessons we get.
In today’s society there is no excuse for any ignorance of Black history, there is no lack of role models for your children and family. There are no lack of Black Americans who should inspire us all. We have the internet, history books by Black historians and so much more now. Black History Month is all year around because it IS American history. And like every other lesson your child takes with them through life, it starts at home.