In 1926 the second week in February was established as Negro History Week by historian Carter G. Woodson. He picked this particular date because it coincides with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (Feb 12th) and Frederick Douglas (Feb 16th). Both of these dates have been celebrated by the black community since the 19th century.
Abe Lincoln will forever be remembered as the president, who sought to stop the expansion of and then abolish slavery and in doing so created great division in the US. Frederick Douglas was a national leader of the abolitionist movement.
The fact Douglas was an exceptional writer and orator made him the perfect example to counter act the common argument and misconception that blacks were not intelligent, nor capable of self-thought and were sub-human, indeed they were treated worse than animals. He is also the first African-American to be nominated as Vice-President of the United States.
Douglas believed, as do I, that you do not judge people on their race, religion or gender, but rather by their actions and words. An arsehole is still an arsehole regardless of whether they are black, white, Muslim, Christian, male or female.
“I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”(Frederick Douglass 1855)
In 1976 Black History Month was officially recognised by the US government (took them long enough). Carter G. Woodson says it very well:
‘If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.’ Quote: Carter G. Woodson
I think one of the questions I hear quite often is why we need a Black History Month? The same people ask why do we need to ensure our children are aware of women’s role in history, science, education, especially now the UK is planning to cut important female political figures from the A-Level syllabus. Or why do we need a Native American Heritage Month, which is in November by the way.
Let me put it in the simplest way. Our entire history is written and edited by white men. Reported on and edited by white men. The end-product is defined by the frame of references of white people.
What this means for you, me and the next generations is in essence a Google Search Engine experience. Google determines what you find in your searches based on your personal needs, wants and most importantly what they want you to find. It’s the same with history. If certain people, places, events and deeds are omitted from the possible sea of searchable possibilities then they can’t be found by people using the search engine, and they also disappear into the big black hole of historically inconsequential information.
Eventually they are expunged. The less they are mentioned, talked or read about the less they are circulated and eventually they are just gone. Much like an ancient language in danger of becoming extinct. We can only pass on and teach what we know, which also means we can’t pass on what we have never heard of or read about.
Saying that none of us can know everything, but we should ensure we and the next generation hear, read and learn the complete picture and not just the edited or annotated version. I can hear some of you saying or possibly shouting ‘histrionics’, ‘don’t fix it if it ain’t broke’, ‘you’re just exaggerating’…
Am I though? As far as I can see it is already broken and always has been because of the one-sided flavour of written historical reports, leaving aside the fact history is always written by the victors.The proof is in the pudding. Go ahead and ask your children, your friends, neighbours or acquaintances how many black Americans of historical importance can they name (excluding Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Malcom X). How many can they name from before the 1940’s?
Have you ever searched the internet for Holocaust denial websites? When I was researching Mein Kampf and Anne Frank’s Diary I was surprised and dismayed at the amount of denial websites that popped up after putting in a simple term like ‘The Holocaust.’ So just imagine those disturbing sites become the norm and outweigh the number of factual Holocaust information sites. You lie about something often enough one day it becomes the truth.
I think the best example, argument and explanation for why we need a Black History and Native American Month can be understood when you actually listen to the other side of the story. If you ever ask a Native American to tell you their history you might be shocked to hear them describe it in a completely different way to what you have read or heard about.
Take Columbus for instance, the Americans bask in his glory for discovering America (technically he didn’t discover America, but hey that is just another wrong fact we teach in schools). Columbus condoned and supported the rape and murder of the indigenous peoples he encountered.
‘he later returned to Spain and left behind 39 men who went ahead and helped themselves to Native women. Upon his return the men were all dead.With 1,200 more soldiers at his disposal, rape and pillaging became rampant as well as tolerated by Columbus.’ Quote: Indian Country
What one would call a whitewashed history in favour of the invaders, a whitewash printed in text books and taught to children all over the world.
‘Several accounts of cruelty and murder include Spaniards testing the sharpness of blades on Native people by cutting them in half, beheading them in contests and throwing Natives into vats of boiling soap. There are also accounts of suckling infants being lifted from their mother’s breasts by Spaniards, only to be dashed head-first into large rocks.’ Quote: Indian Country
Little wonder that they shake their heads with disgust when Christopher Columbus Day comes around and children are taught to portray a conveniently edited version of events. Written events shaped by the victors. I could go on with the further genocide of the Native Americans and the subsequent attempts at eradication and handling, but you get the point.
At this point I would also like to say that we or I also need to acknowledge that America isn’t the big bad wolf and they are just one nation amongst many, who have committed genocide, atrocities against minorities or native people of islands or countries they have inhabited or colonised.
It is important that we teach every aspect of an historical event and not just the story of the winning party. It is even more important that minorities, Black Americans, indigenous people or any group of oppressed persons and their offspring or future generations are taught both sides of the story, and not just the shiny heavily redacted side.
I always say to my children, take pride in who you are and where you have come from, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Growing up in a foreign country with a nationality completely different to those around them they have had to put up with plenty of misconceptions, hatred, abuse and downright ignorant bullshit from bigots and racists.
In Germany they were called out for being British and in Britain they are called out for being part Dutch and German. They have even been called Nazi’s. Let’s not even get into what I had to put up with, needless to say it made me the stone cold killer charmer I am today. So with that in mind I have always made sure they are taught the good, the bad and the ugly. Instilling a sense of pride in self is an important part of a stable personality.
The same goes for every young black person or child, every Native American child and every minority child or hey anyone who doesn’t belong in the white privilege bubble of information. They need to know about their own historical figures of importance. Their race, colour and religion. History isn’t just a bunch of white people discovering, inventing, conquering and changing the world. History is every single one of us, regardless of the colour of their skin, their beliefs and their nationality.
I for one do not want to live in the segregated bubble of information we are surrounded, which is why I embrace filling in the other side of the story and seeing both sides of the coin. You know what they say, somewhere in the middle of the two is the truth. In this case it is probably more like reaching over the middle and digging underneath the what is commonly known as popular and printed ‘truth.’
To celebrate Black History Month download and read Collected Articles of Frederick Douglass, A Slave, My Bondage and My Freedom, The Selling of Joseph by Phillis Wheatley, The Langston Hughes reader, Harlem Shadows: The poems of Claude McKay, Narrative of Life, A Fugitive Slave, The Colored Heroine or The Black Man, his antecedents, his genius and his achievements at the Internet Archive and Feedbooks for free. Alternatively you can listen to Clotell or the President’s Daughter, The South and It’s People, On Virtue or The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass at Librivox.
Read Poems on Slavery, The Antidote to Lifestyle Dictators, A Treasure Trove of Poetry, The Revolutionist, Bleached Skulls and Buried Treasure, Gods and Goddesses, The Forbidden Love of the Invisible Girl or Television’s Sexy Saint right here on the blog.