Across the country, Trump-supporting partisans are flooding the airways and crowding school board meeting rooms; conservative legislators are offering criticisms and enacting laws designed to control the curricula of schools and colleges when it comes to the teaching of racial history. Although it may seem new to many, such discussions of the issue even pre-date the brilliant Carter Woodson. What has often been missing, and is somewhat muted today, is the voice of Black America – its citizens, teacher, scholars, and political leaders. They are not nearly as active or vocal in championing the genuine history of race in America.
Nevertheless, Frederick Douglass was right in questioning the celebration of the Fourth of July. David Walker, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and numerous others were correct in peeling-back the veneer of American history to expose the real truth about its origins and its unfolding. Woodson, W.E.B. DuBois, and others were correct in their push for the history of Black people being taught in the public schools. Their positions must be re-visited and given greater exposure.
The boisterous, and even violent, white opposition to the teaching of the truth regarding race and racism in America is what is dominating the news today. There is misguided fire against Critical Race Theory and against Project 1619 not just by white racist leaders, but by thousands of others who want nothing taught in American educational institutions that will make them, their ancestors, or their culture look bad. They are opposed to the truth being told to their off-spring.
Over the years, this opposition has prevailed as Black people have bowed to the will of white politicians and school officials. That is why Negro History Week was confined to one week, usually exhibited a mild or moderate tone, and was usually offered outside the confines of the public schools themselves, except in a minority of segregated Black schools. Because Black people have so often bowed to the white supremacists who were in leadership positions, it is now a shock to the system to hear the loud and determined efforts to change the status quo so far as the teaching of history is concerned.
In this new context, the idea of Afrocentric history has been staunchly opposed. The ideas put forth under the umbrella of Project 1619 have been roundly criticized. Even the concept of Critical Race Theory, which has more to do with law school curricula, has been taken out of context and criticized.
Yet, there are Black people standing in the public marketplace needing to sell the truths about history. It is needed by Black people, by white people, by America, and by humankind as a whole. Unless the tide can be turned, the world is bound to be in racial turmoil for the next several generations.
Because we realize the enormity of the task, however, the intent here is not to try and resolve the problem, just to point to areas wherein the debate must be led and championed by Black people. Our position is that history must reflect the full story of what occurred, not just the triumphs of one group and sufferings of another; not the whitewashing of what happened in order spare the condemnation of one group as history will surely find them wanting according to the scales of human justice.
As the debate over facts, testimonies, and documents rage, some basic principles or generalizations must never be lost or surrendered. They must always be insisted upon for inclusion in history courses.
- The history of Black people began long before there was the United States of America, any selling of Africans via the Atlantic Slave Trade, or even the existence of a civilized Europe. The achievements and contributions of early African civilizations must be discussed, with the idea of showing not only their greatness but how the people of the continent were plundered and undeveloped by various European nations.
- The history of America has to begin with the Native American peoples, how they lived and contributed to the advancement of humankind. The history must contrast life among these native peoples with their decimation and the economic quests that were behind their treatment and the treatment of the enslaved Africans.
- The laws, policies, and actions of the European Americans must be seen in how they disadvantaged Blacks and Native Americans; how they enabled America to grow or developed exponentially in terms of economics and political might; how racist they have been in every age.
- The history must not ignore nor de-emphasize the oppression and cruelty of slavery, Jim Crow, and continued patterns of racial discrimination on the economic, social, cultural, and political development of Black people. Simultaneously, the failed and successful efforts of Black resistance to racial oppression must be noted in order to highlight the massiveness of the oppression and the creativity and determination of the oppressed in pursuing liberation.
- The debates on the history of America must underscore the gigantic role of Black and other non-white people in the economic, political, military, social, and cultural development of America. This should include not just the achievements and contributions of singular persons who thereby “made history,” but the millions of others who through their labor and genius, built America from a small feeble country to a world empire.
- The idea of an American Dream must be presented as something that has motivated the oppressed minorities much more-so than the white majority. It should be shown as a thread that has existed since the writing of the Declaration of Independence and has drawn many to this country, but has frequently been virtually rejected by thousands of white Americans.
- Allies and alliances of Black Americans throughout its history must be fully presented in order to understand their motivations, their roles, and the limitations of their support.
- The role of the media and educational institutions must be shown in how they have prevented, lessened and/or destroyed unity among oppressed Black people and other non-white people who have tried to organize to relieve their oppression.
- The history of America, of Black people and of the world must be presented in such a way that the role of racism can be seen and understood in the development and unfolding of imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism, here and around the world.
- The voices of Black and other non-white scholars, leaders and citizens must be given prominent play in looking at the history of America and of the world. The oppressors can no longer be permitted to speak for the oppressed.
The writer is very optimistic and inspired by the number of scholars, leaders, activists, and citizens who are revealing the intelligence and courage needed to advance the debates that must be championed. Lest we miss the mark again, however, we suggest that at least these ten principles or generalizations be adopted and carried forth by these modern Carter G. Woodsons.