Black History Month started out as Negro History Week. I remember wondering as a child why they even bothered since people who looked like me needed only a week to discuss our history while we spent all year studying England, France and the US War for Independence. Of course they never taught us that the original Declaration of Independence had strong statements against slavery and England's role in that horrid commerce which the Southern land owners had removed. My daughter has been taught about this little known fact.
For my generation this was not the case. As I got older it seemed that while the soon to be American citizens were fighting for their freedom from tyranny they had not for one second considered freeing the men, women and children held in chattel slavery on the very land they were fighting to claim as theirs. During Negro History Week we learned about Lincoln freeing the slaves. That was when our history was said to begin.
It was a long fight but that week became a month and black Americans began to take pride in coming from the continent of Africa. We could never know whether we were Ibo, Yoruba, Muslim or practicioners of traditional religions since our names and culture were deemed subversive after Toussaint L'ouverture and Henri Christophe threw the French off the island of Haiti. It took Alex Haley's drama, "Roots" to open the flood gates for African Americans to look back not with shame but pride to the men and women who survived the Middle Passage and fought to live in the face of daunting odds.
Monday, February 19, 2007