Welcome to the first week of Black History Month. Quite an advancement, some would say, from back in 1926 when the historian, Dr Carter J. Woodson, created Negro History Week.
But knock on just about any door, anywhere in America, and ask the family who Carter J. Woodson is and when they look puzzled then tell them he is a famous Black man.
Kids and parents alike will ask which NFL or NBA team he plays for. Letting them know they’re off course, the family members, whether black or white, will ask if he played in Prince’s back-up band or if he’s with Jay Z or Beyonce’s music team.
A sad and pathetic state of affairs with scantily clad Beyonce being idolized while Marion Anderson, the world renown Black opera singer, gets a question mark next to her name on the Black History Month quiz.
We can’t identify Black people who, against the odds, have made significant historical contributions but we’re able to allow our culture to be minimized by the sounds of marching bands.
I’m not at all convinced that we need parades to celebrate my history. The last one I attended (and the only one I ever went to ) had an inordinate amount of very cute black girls shaking their rumps while swishing their long store bought Chinese hair in sync with the rhythm of the fiecrce drum beat.
Ask the parade goer standing next to you who Phyllis Wheatly is and you’ll probably get an answer something like, “Uh, I think she’s the one in the third row of pom-pom girls. Yeah, yeah, she’s the one with that long blonde ponytail.”
And just why should we know who Phyliss Wheatly was ? One reason we should know of her is because she is the epitomy of who we, as black people, are not.
Phillis Wheatley became the first African American and one of the first women to publish a book of poetry in the American colonies, in 1773.
She was born in Senegal/Gambia in about 1753 and at the age of 8 was kidnapped and brought to Boston Massachusets on a slave ship in 1761. Although she was in poor health she was purchased by John Wheatley whose family educated her and she went on to write highly acclaimed poetry. She published her first poem in 1767 and her first volume of verse in 1773.
This took place at a time when African Americans were discouraged and intimidated from learning how to read and write. For, as former slave and orator Fredrick Douglass
has written the words of his master,” Learning will spoil the best nigger in the world. If he learns to read the Bible it will forever unfit him to be a slave. If you teach him how to read, he’ll want to know how to write, and this accomplished, he’ll be running away with himself.”
Not much of an advancement has taken place by the increase from one week to a full month.
Our children still can’t read and still don’t know who, we as a people, are.
Too bad we haven’t accomplished what the 8 year-old kidnapped Phyllis Wheatly managed to do which would make true the words of Douglas’ owner, come true.
Just think, if we were to replace the Black History Month hip-shaking parades and instead focus on that which would make us run away with ourselves, in the years to come, when we knock on a neighbor’s door, no matter the color of their skin, they would know who we are.
Dr. Carter J. Woodson, the Black man who isn’t an NBA of NFl player is someone we ought to know all about even though he was never in the entertainment industry like Beyonce, Jay Z or Prince.
While never to have worn skimpy clothes (at least not in public) or to have sported long store bought Chinese hair, Woodson’s documentation of African American’s lives and contributions are the beginning link to learning and appreciating who we are as a people.
Marion Anderson, might be said, to have paved the way for today’s black entertainers. She was, among many other things, involved in the struggle for black artists to overcome racial prejudice in the United States.
In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission for her to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall.. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and President, Franklin D. Roosevelt intervened. Anderson performed on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of over 75,000 people and to a radio audience all over the world that was in the millions.
I would say Anderson ran away with her self. And I would further say, parents and elders in our communities need to grab hold to our younguns’ and get them to start running.