When Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, the son of former slaves, founded Negro History Week in 1926, he was a man of vision and purpose. Dr. Woodson was a man who studied in some of the finest schools in America and France, but understood education tainted with White Supremacy was worth little–unless those exposed to it were inoculated from its poison by having a healthy dose of self-knowledge.
In his landmark work, “The Mis-Education of the Negro,” Dr. Woodson observed:
“When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”
Negro History Week, which has become Black History Month, is an opportunity to educate. But that education must go beyond the stories of slavery, suffering and death endured at the hands of the slave master and their children. And it must go beyond the convenient elements and historical accounts that tell a one-sided tale of the Black struggle. The tale is largely told from the cotton fields up to the Civil Rights movement, with Rosa Parks taking a seat on a bus and “a dream” that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about in 1963 at the March on Washington.
This sanitized history tells the story of Black folk forever fighting to be near and dear to the slave master, willing to sacrifice and die for the slave master, willing to endure any deprivation in the struggle to be accepted by the slave master.
That version of history isn’t surprising, given that our former slave masters and those tainted with Black inferiority have a basic script to read from and the same script is recycled year after year and repeated at annual Black History Month celebrations.
But even that history is tainted: Rosa Parks wasn’t just a tired Black woman who didn’t want to move to the back of the bus. She was part of an organized movement to combat segregationist laws and her arrest was part of a campaign to strike down Black second-class citizenship that had been enshrined in law. Dr. King didn’t just have a dream. By 1967, a year before he died, he shared a revelation about the Vietnam War and the political machinations and spending of a country drunk on the wine of war. The madness of warmongering made government efforts for racial progress and advancement for the poor a farce, he said, in his historic Riverside Church speech in New York. There Dr. King called for non-violence abroad as he called for non-violence at home and was roundly condemned and ostracized for that call.
The story is rarely told of Blacks who fought to keep from going into slavery and to keep their brothers and sisters from enslavement. The story of Black rebellion and the awesome fear of slave uprisings isn’t told either. The fact that Black men and women believed in “give me liberty or give me death” isn’t widely shared.
Why? As Dr. Woodson so profoundly observed, if you control a person’s thinking, you control their actions. If we learned our true history, we might actually believe it is possible to live and live well without the direction of Whites. We might believe that self-determination isn’t a pipe dream or an out-of-vogue statement from the 1970s. We might believe unity is possible and commit to unity.
If we knew our true history and how to measure the time, we might understand that we must do something for ourselves. We cannot wait for others to do for us what we should and must do for ourselves.
If we understood our true history, we would understand that our greatness even extends past the great ancient kingdoms of Africa, who taught the Caucasians knowledge, wisdom, understanding and civilization. We would know that the Black man and woman have no birth record, no beginning nor ending. As the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught, we are the original people of the earth and descendents from God himself.
What is possible for the children of God to achieve or better yet, what is impossible for the children of God to achieve?
Mr. Muhammad taught that of all our studies history is the best suited to reward our research. If we studied history, we could see not only the heroes, but we could see the successes and the failures. We could see the strategies used to thwart our progress and plan to avoid those pitfalls. As the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan observed, once you learn the lessons of history, you don’t have to repeat them.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to learn to put the disunity, discord, envy and jealousy of the past behind us, because history shows the oppressor uses those impediments as tools to disrupt us? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to understand liberation is a cause worth living and dying for? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to understand that we have the opportunity to not only study history, but to make history–by committing ourselves to the cause of freedom, justice and equality for our people and the oppressed people of the earth?