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Today marks the first day of Black History Month for 2011. February has always been a month that has been celebrated by people of many races and background to recognize the notable contributions of African-Americans over the years. However, this month long celebration of AA achievement is also a reflection of the untold history that has deep roots of despair and jubilee.
Since the beginning of the "Negro History Week" in 1926 which later became the “Black History Month”, there has been a significant record keeping of what really had happened to Blacks from the slave trade era, to the treatment they had endured, to the struggle for civil rights, to today where we have an African American President in the United States. However, in order to embrace and celebrate today’s progress; it is important to look at history since the colonial times at the dawn of the revolution and reflect on the good, the bad and the ugly to our present time. It is our American History that is often not fully thought in our schools.
It started in 1619, when the first ship arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, with 20 black African captives on a Dutch ship who were captives from a slave trader bound for Spain.
Since the revolution in 1640s, about 20% of the population of the thirteen colonies was African descents who were legally enslaved. More than half of the enslaved African Americans lived in Virginia and Maryland.
By 1700, enslaved blacks would comprise a majority of the work force in some of the southern colonies.
Between 1500 and 1800, approximately five hundred thousand Africans slaves came to the American colonies. Another Nine million were shipped to the West Indies, Brazil, or Latin American colonies where a large number later in the 1800 and 1900 immigrated to the United States.
Even though in 1776, the declaration of independence stated:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among that are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
...African Americans as slaves had to continue to do more than anyone to earn their inalienable Rights, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness through the many contributions even though they were treated as a personal property and could be bought or sold based on their size of the muscle or fitness as if they were chattels. The children of slaves became the property of the slave owner and the cycle continued for many years even after the declaration.
Time passed and people's heart change when injustice is blatantly cruel leading to rebelliousness by many but one man who stood up was Frederick Douglass who escaped from slavery to become one of the most respected and effective abolitionist leaders that made the issue of slavery a movement.
And who would forget someone born a slave, Harriett Tubman, becoming a famous "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, leading hundreds of slaves to freedom:
Abraham Lincoln's fight to end slavery was a long and painful road too, but on September 22, 1862, he issued his Emancipation Proclamation that finally fulfilled the declaration of independence, a century later after its declaration.
While history can't erase the injustices to African American salves and its trickled down effect on many to this day, scholars had rarely captured and recognized the contributions of African American who have made it possible for the colonial empires to survive and build the United States of America. Truth be told, it is important as Americans to know who we were, what we were and who we had become in the context of African American history. We need to celebrate a voice not so long ago was voiceless because of the rich history of African Americans who are the pillar for a rebirth of a Nation.
I am indebted for life to the many silent heroes that have made it possible for me to stand tall and smile. Their journey and contribution can never be forgotten for it has changed many lives profoundly to this day. As such, I salute Black History Month in remembrance many heroes.
To Dr. Carter G. Woodson, thank you!
We owe the celebration of Black History Month, and more importantly, the study of black history, to Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Born to parents who were former slaves, he spent his childhood working in the Kentucky coal mines and enrolled in high school at age twenty. He graduated within two years and later went on to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard. The scholar was disturbed to find in his studies that history books largely ignored the black American population-and when blacks did figure into the picture, it was generally in ways that reflected the inferior social position they were assigned at the time.
Woodson, always one to act on his ambitions, decided to take on the challenge of writing black Americans into the nation's history. He established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now called the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History) in 1915, and a year later founded the widely respected Journal of Negro History. In 1926, he launched Negro History Week as an initiative to bring national attention to the contributions of black people throughout American history.
Woodson chose the second week of February for Negro History Week because it marks the birthdays of two men who greatly influenced the black American population, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. However, February has much more than Douglass and Lincoln to show for its significance in black American history. For example:
• February 23, 1868:
W. E. B. DuBois, important civil rights leader and co-founder of the NAACP, was born.
• February 3, 1870:
The 15th Amendment was passed, granting blacks the right to vote.
• February 25, 1870:
The first black U.S. senator, Hiram R. Revels (1822-1901), took his oath of office.
• February 12, 1909:
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded by a group of concerned black and white citizens in New York City.
• February 1, 1960:
In what would become a civil-rights movement milestone, a group of black Greensboro, N.C., college students began a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth's lunch counter.
• February 21, 1965:
Malcolm X, the militant leader who promoted Black Nationalism, was shot to death by three Black Muslims.
• More from the Black History Timeline
Being enslaved brings bad memories for those that have seen many years of deprived livelihood. The history of these events if seen step by step has many engraved scars and jubilation that we as Americans should not forget but embrace. We have made fundamental progress in race relations and the struggle and achievements to date are insurmountable. The dream continues to live as we have elected a Black President not because of the color of his skin but the content of his character. There still is a lot of progress to be made for equal justice, employment, access to loans, health care, building wealth, etc. but Black History Month is a time to reflect on the past, the present and the future of where we will go or become as a society, as a nation, embracing our differences and connecting with what divided us to make a great America become even greater.
For those who would like to take an in-depth look at the Black History Timeline, click the link and enjoy the summation in more depth about the untold history that is missing in the classroom, PTA, churches and at your homes that should give you a wealth of high level narrative which maps the arrival of the first ship in the Americas as slaves in the 15th century to the present day.
Enjoy Black History Month! Embrace it!
Food for the soul in remembrance of the struggles of the enslaved:
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