CategoryAfrican American history

Lighting One More Candle To Celebrate Black History Month

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Both of my last two blog posts have honored Black History Month. The first was devoted to the monumental work, From Slavery to Freedom, A History of African Americans, by the eminent historian John Hope Franklin and his distinguished colleague, Alfred Moss, Jr. And the second post followed with a review of the excellent book, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, and the Struggle for Racial Uplift, by Jacqueline M. Moore.

As this year’s final tribute, I am adding The Souls of Black Folk, by the great black intellectual and civil rights leader, W.E.B. DuBois. As the note introducing this masterful and eloquent volume states: “Part social documentary, part history, part autobiography, part anthropological field report, The Souls of Black Folk remains unparalleled in its scope.” And I would add, not only true at the time of its publication in 1903, but equally true today.

When I began this work, I knew many things about W.E.B., facts like he was a great intellectual, of his differences with Booker T. Washington, on how best to uplift the black race after their emancipation, and that he was one of the prime founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. And while I had read that he was a fine writer, I had never met him on the printed page in person, and was therefore unprepared for his masterful abilities with language.

In his preface, W.E.B. introduces himself to his reader and instantly forms a personal relationship with him or her by humbly asking, “I pray you, then, receive my little book in all charity, studying my words with me…seeking to find the grain of truth hidden there.” And when the reader accepts this kind and generous offer, he or she is very quickly rewarded with such an in-depth exploration of the struggles of the freed blacks to survive and slowly progress in the hostile world they faced after emancipation, a struggle so vividly portrayed by W.E.B., with a rare combination of pathos and dignity, that the reader will come as close to possible to stepping into the shoes of the oppressed people portrayed.

In just 164 pages, W.E.B. takes the reader on a journey from the Reconstruction Era to 1900, educating him or her with first-hand accounts of what it was like for a black person seeking help from the Freedmen’s Bureau, then struggling to create a hardscrabble living from farming, and learning to read and write, all in the face of a hostile white society. Further along the path, when blacks began migrating north, W.E.B. then takes the reader further inside minds and hearts of those blacks seeking to find housing and acquire skills and having done so, being rewarded by facing virulent racial bias in the job market.

Religion and music, and their important roles in the cultural lives of blacks, during slavery and onward along the slow and painful path that they traversed as freedmen is also treated by W.E.B. Once again, the first-hand accounts so vividly described in detail leap off the page to surround the reader to experience both the positive and negative effects of these great influences on a people seeking desperately to live.

In the end, after years of effort that resulted in personal success, an exhausted W.E.B. formed the opinion that the white bias of inherent superiority was so deeply ingrained that blacks would never be treated as equal members of American society, and he emigrated to Ghana and lived out his life there. Today, despite the progress that has been made, despite the gains resulting from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and even despite the election of an African American President, race remains a major problem for America. In The Afterthought attached to his vitally important book, W.E.B. did offer what to me is a prayer for justice that is as fully applicable today as it was in 1903.

“Hear my cry, O God the Reader; vouchsafe that this my book fall not still-born unto the world-wilderness. Let there spring, Gentle One, from out its leaves vigor of thought and thoughtful deed to reap the harvest wonderful. (Let the ears of a guilty people tingle with truth, and seventy millions sigh for the righteousness which exalteth nations, in this drear day when human brotherhood is mockery and a snare.) Thus in Thy good time may infinite reason turn the tangle straight, and These crooked marks on a fragile leaf be not indeed.”

This book inspired me to try harder to do my share to make that prayer come true. I wholeheartedly recommend it to all who would seek a similar experience.

Celebrating Black History Month

Black History Month Collage

In my last blog post on January 1st of this year, I pointed out that the foremost problem facing our Criminal Justice System, mirroring American society as a whole, is the issue of race.

In that post I opined that because this serious problem had its origins centuries before our country was colonized and then transformed into the United States, that for those who seek fully to understand the long, tragic history of racism, I highly recommended reading From Slavery to Freedom, A History of African Americans by the eminent historian John Hope Franklin, and his distinguished co-author, Alfred Moss Jr.

In honor of Black History Month, and as a highly worthwhile follow-up to the aforestated classic work, I would like to further recommend reading Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, and the Struggle for Racial Uplift by Jacqueline M. Moore.

When the Civil War ended in April, 1865, approximately four million former slaves found themselves free, and suddenly responsible for their well being without benefit of education or for the most part the skills necessary to earn a living, let alone take their proper place in society. Over the next sixty to seventy years, a heroic struggle ensued to uplift African Americans to a position from which they could begin to fully integrate into

American Society, and during this time the two most prominent leaders of this cause were Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.

In her book, Ms. Moore provides the reader with background information on both of these giants, then traces their activities leading to the founding of the Tuskegee Institute by Booker T. Washington in 1881, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1910. In a highly readable style, the author brings both the era and the lives of these two great leaders vividly alive, and in just 176 pages fully educates the readers on an uplift that under the conditions is nothing short of miraculous, and, of course, the contributions of these truly remarkable men toward that end.

Perhaps the most fascinating angle explored by Ms. Moore, is the philosophical differences between Washington and DuBois, because they present the background necessary to have a greater appreciation of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, as well as offering a platform on which to evaluate the differences in philosophy between today’s leaders of the New Civil Rights leaders.

In short summary, Washington believed that industrial education should come first so that southern blacks could gain basic schooling and useful skills with which to make something of themselves. DuBois, on the other hand, argued that without higher education for blacks, there would be no black teachers for the industrial schools and therefore no chance for blacks to improve.

Washington’s approach, which advocated racial segregation socially and politically, was deferential to whites and thus widely accepted. If one keeps in mind that Washington was a slave for the first 9 years of his life, came of age during the turbulent times of Reconstruction, and was seeking to help a huge population of his fellow blacks who had little education and/or skills, his approach made considerable common sense.

DuBois, who was born free, was 12 years younger than Washington and the beneficiary of economic, educational, and social benefits totally foreign to Washington and the great majority of blacks, held the vision that blacks would rise with the help of educated leaders (the top 10% of the black population), who would use their training and skills to help others and to fight for rights for the race.

As the author demonstrates, both philosophies were necessary, and within a relatively short time period, not mutually exclusive, but rather complementary. And the power struggle between these two giants, each desiring to be the number one spokesman for his race, demonstrates the need to sublimate egos to the best achieve progress.

The story of this clash, offers a valuable lesson to current leaders of the New Civil Rights Movement, where major differences lie between the views of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Black Lives Matter, and the NAACP, all of whom seek to eradicate the cancer of racism from our society, and create through our political, economic, social, and cultural institutions a just society for all members.

America’s Crucial Civil Rights Issue: Race

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since I began my blog in 2014, just before publication of my novel Gideon’s Children, I have argued that the foremost problem facing our Criminal Justice System, mirroring American society as a whole, is the issue of race.

Because this serious problem has its origin centuries before our country was colonized and then transformed into the United States, for those who seek to fully understand the long, tragic history of racism, I highly recommend reading From Slavery to Freedom, A History of African Americans by the eminent historian John Hope Franklin, and his distinguished co-author, Alfred Moss, Jr.

Meticulously researched by Franklin and Moss, this highly readable book begins by presenting a broad view of early African empires, Ghana, Mali, and Songhay, dating back to before the Middle Ages. In fascinating detail, the reader is presented with societies that were remarkably sophisticated, with a sharp focus on their political, economic, and social systems, as well as art and music.

After this foundation is carefully laid, the authors then sweep forward to The Slave Trade and the New World, followed by Colonial Slavery, thus providing a vivid portrait of the roots of racism and the problem that has haunted America ever since their development. No detail is spared in depicting the tragic irony involved as the founders of the colonies, and thereafter the United States, idealized freedom and democracy, while simultaneously permitting the abominable institution of slavery to exist and flourish.

Building upon this base, eras are then explored, depicting the role of Blacks from the New Republic to Manifest Destiny, to Slavery and Intersectional Strife, to the Civil War, then followed by Reconstruction and Economic Adjustment. And adding to a well-rounded narrative that incorporates opposite viewpoints, from white supremacy to abolitionist philosophy, along with governing political, economic, social, and religious factors, the authors further spice their comprehensive story-line with Eyewitness Accounts from a cross-section of individuals who lived during the various times.

In the last third of this monumental work, the authors offer a vivid picture of the enormity of African Americans’ struggle to survive and become full citizens, from the latter part of the 1860s through the turn of the century and World War I, then continuing from the 1920s through the Great Depression and World War II, and further from the post war through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s to the turn of the Twenty-first century.

Each era is explored thoroughly from a political, economic, social, and religious perspective, with chapters also devoted to cultural revolutions such as The Harlem Renaissance.

I began by recommending From Slavery to Freedom to those who seek to fully understand the long, tragic history of racism. I feel compelled to add that everyone would benefit from reading it. For while those of us living today are not to blame for slavery and the racism underlying it, I would argue that we are responsible for eliminating the cancer of racism in our country and in our world, and working steadfastly as individuals and through our political, social, economic, and cultural institutions to create a just society for all members.