In recent years, there has been much debate on whether black history is merely a subordinate piece of American history. That would only be true if black history’s African origin were excluded.
That being said, black history is comprised of the experiences of the indigenous peoples of Africa and their Diaspora to the Americas.
Henry Louis Gates Jr. described the etymology of black in his book Colored People: “My grandfather was colored, my father was Negro, and I am black…”
POINT OF VIEW
Depending on what point of a timeline, or which side of the Atlantic Ocean one decides to observe history determines what category black history is placed, i.e., African or American.
Carter G. Woodson, an organizer of the first Negro History Week, came up with the concept for The Society for the Study of Negro Life and History.
Woodson understood the need for blacks (Africans) to study their history, and to be proud of their contributions to the world.
“The Negro’s pride of race is humiliated when he contemplates the great drama of this continent and finds that he is accorded no honorable part…” wrote Kelly Miller in her 1926 essay, Negro History.
African descendants celebrate and study black history to ascribe their accomplishments and value into the pages of history for future generations.
It is important for blacks and other ethnic groups, not just Americans, to know the entire history of black people, including their life in Africa – a history replete with math, science, philosophy, architecture, governments, and thriving economies that functioned millenniums before the arrival of the first Europeans.
Tracing the history of many black families from their aboriginal existence in Africa eventually turns to the path across the Atlantic Ocean, the middle passage, from West Africa to the Americas and the West Indies.
Black-American history began in 1619 when the first ship carrying 20 Africans landed in the English colony of Jamestown, Virginia.
Although slavery was a harsh reality for many blacks, there were those who rebelled. Frederick Douglass learned to read and write; he eventually escaped to freedom.
Harriet Tubman personally rescued 200 slaves through the Underground Railroad, according to 1,999 Facts About Blacks, by Raymond M. Corbin.
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, but it was 1865 before the last slaves in Texas received news of their freedom. Their freedom is still celebrated during June, called “Juneteenth.”
After slavery, during Reconstruction, the era of Jim Crow created traditional forms of discrimination, segregation, and terror against blacks. A system of “black codes” were devised to continue oppressing blacks.
Blacks continued, however, to make progress in areas of education and the arts, among other achievements. A notable gift blacks gave to America and the world is an original form of music.
Through the use of a five note musical scale blacks created the Blues. “This was purely and wholly African…” wrote John W. Work in his essay, Negro Folk Song. “The Negro was the only immigrant to this country who was capable of producing Folk Song. He was in a primitive state, untouched by the folksong-atrophying influences of civilization…and naturally express(ed) himself in song.”
“My grandfather was colored, my father was Negro, and I am black…”
Blacks later added a flat-7 note to their musical (scale) expression to create jazz music with its rhythm and syncopation.
A lot of this history gets lost over the decades, which is why blacks strive to remember important milestones in their history.
For example, W.E.B. DuBois became the first to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard for his dissertation on the slave trade.
In 1944, the United Negro College Fund was established to provide education for blacks who would not otherwise have an opportunity to advance their education.
On a bus in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama. The previous year, in Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the “separate but equal” decision.
The Civil Rights era reached its peak in 1963 with the historic March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.
Nearly 50 years later, the United States elected its first black president, Barack Obama, for a second term. “I wonder, sometimes, whether men and women in fact are capable of learning from history…” wrote Obama in his book, The Audacity Of Hope.