We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world, void of national bias, race, hate, and religious prejudice.
Carter G. Woodson, founder of Black History Month
When Carter Woodson helped found Negro History Week in 1926, he had already accomplished quite a lot. The son of former slaves, he had graduated from Berea College in KY in 1903, earned a Master’s Degree in History from the University of Chicago, and a Ph.D in history from Harvard, becoming the second African-American to do so. W.E.B. DuBois was the first, but Woodson is the only offspring of former slaves to receive a PhD in history from an American institution. He founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 and their publication, The Journal of Negro History, to support and encourage research into the history, culture and accomplishments of Negroes, as we were then called. He was particularly interested in educating young Blacks about their history. "If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated," Woodson wrote in "The Mis-Education of the Negro." He sponsored research, worked with other historians, conducted interviews with hundreds of Black about their personal and family histories, and more.
He was not the only one; the twentieth century ushered in intense interest in documenting Black life. The celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1915 brought thousands of people to the Chicago Coliseum to see exhibits and displays on Black life. Out of that Woodson got Black schools, churches, organizations, and newspapers to include ways of getting information about Black history to people. Negro History Week caught on, went across the country, and eventually moved into the regular school curriculum of more and more public elementary schools. When I was in elementary school in the 1950’s we had Negro History Week observances at Dunlap Elementary School. Of course, these observances had become mostly about famous Black people who had accomplished things, and not Woodson’s desired look at the Negro IN history. But while I overdosed on George Washington Carver and Phillis Wheatley in school, I had Ebony and Jet magazines and the Philadelphia Tribune newspaper at home, Black owned and Black themed publications, that had listened to Woodson and provided that wider view.
Things have changed over the decades, of course. The organization Woodson founded is now called The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), we are now not called, “Negroes,” and there is now a Federally recognized “Black History Month” instead of just a week. There have been much more scholastic and scientific published research, many more books and films, many more newspaper and magazine, articles and more. There are even numerous Black life centered museums and official Black Heritage sites across the country, including museums looking at Black WWII fighter pilots, Black firefighters, cowboy and pioneers, a Great Blacks in Wax museum, and much, much, more. There are also webpages turning up interesting and previously hidden or unknown aspects of how Blacks have been a part of this culture.
This is particularly relevant now in the wake of all that happened in 2020. It became clear that there is a lot Americans do not know, see or recognize about Black life, and there is now a more conscious effort to change that. Over the past months web -searching and friends e-mailing me have brought to my attention some wonderful new information and insights my way, and it is wonderful as my understanding and knowledge continue to grow. History is never stale and “finished.” It always fascinating, often changing. and evolving. I invite you to spend some time doing some investigation of places, web sites, museum sites, and more to see what you can find about aspects of Black life with which you are/were unfamiliar or unaware. I invite us all to go to make this a month more in line with Woodson’s goal of discovering, exploring, and looking at who we as Americans are in as broad a sense as possible-I also have a lot to continually learn. There are plenty of places to see, both within the Philadelphia region and nationwide. Surprises and new learnings await, sometimes painful, sometimes wonderful and amazing, and sometimes simply fun. Let’s make this Black History Month a month of wonder and discovery. Thanks.
The Philadelphia Tribune Newspaper: https://www.phillytrib.com
Ebony Magazine https://www.ebony.com
The Association for the Study of African American life and History: https://asalh.org/
The African-American Firefighter Museum www.aaffmuseum.org
List of African-American Centered Museums Nationwide:
Black in Walden: Black Walden Came First. Thoreau, After.
In my last newsletter I mentioned the recent death of one of my all time favorite musicians,, tuba and sax man Howard Johnson. Since then I have been listening to a bunch of his recording and remain impressed with his talent, soul and creativity. Here is a link to one of my favorite life recordings of all time, Taj Mahal’s The Real Ting with a band led by Howard. WOW! It starts with Taj acoustically, then the band comes in. I dare you to listen to this and not dance, shout and shake your head in wonder. Enjoy!
The Dukes on YouTube
We have posted few videos on YouTube. Please log in, view our videos, and leave a comment or two. Tell your friends to view us and post comments as well. Thanks:
Just a Little Bit https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=d8iFNlDPM_c
Higher Ground https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=baSmjnQFvXg