Reclaiming our history
24th February 2014 · 0 Comments
By Edmund W. Lewis
One of America’s greatest intellectuals, William E.B. DuBois, once wrote:
“Listen to the Winds, O God the Reader, that wail across the whipcords stretched taut on broken human hearts; listen to the Bones, the bare bleached bones of slaves, that line the lanes of Seven Seas and beat eternal tomtoms in the forests of the laboring deep; listen to the Blood, the cold thick blood that spills its filth across the fields and flowers of the Free; listen to the Souls that wing and thrill and weep and scream and sob and sing above it all. What shall these things mean, O God the Reader?
“You know. You know,” DuBois continues.
In this beautifully sad and somber passage, DuBois strikes to the heart of one of the most baffling mysteries surrounding the Black experience. Regardless of our individual beliefs, religion serves as both a moral yardstick and an intangible balm used to ease the many frustrations we suffer as we ask ourselves and our Creator why certain things happen. Indeed, the Bible assures us that all things work together for good and that someday all shall be made clear to us. Still, those of us who are inclined to seek to understand the meaning of our sojourn in this strange land are compelled to relentlessly attempt to chisel some morsel of significance out of our recent history of chained misery, struggle and achievement against all odds. Perhaps a brief survey of the Black experience could do much to alleviate many of the misconceptions surrounding our past.
It wasn’t until 1926 that Blacks would receive official recognition of our achievements and contributions as a people.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a pioneer in the field of Black history and the founder of Black History Month, firmly believed that Africans had a history worthy of dedicated research, publication and study. For Woodson, the importance of history lie in the notion that if a “race did not have a recorded history, its achievements would be forgotten.”
As a result, “the race would become a negligible factor in the thought of the world and stand in danger of being exterminated.” He fervently hoped that the study of Black history might reverse “the educational process which inspires and stimulates the oppressor with the thought that he is everything and has accomplished everything worthwhile.”
Central to Woodson’s stance was the hope that through the study of Black history change in the attitudes of people of African descent toward ourselves and our heritage and in the attitudes of whites toward Blacks could be realized.
Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, there have always been scholars who have fought relentlessly to deny and discredit any evidence that suggests that Black people have accomplished anything of lasting significance.
Any information that even threatens to disclose evidence of past Black achievements is meticulously suppressed, vigorously challenged or conveniently misplaced to deny the African his place in world history. This is precisely what happened and what is still happening with regard to the archaeological findings of Dr. Louis Leakey, a progressive and courageous white anthropologist who proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that East Africa was indeed the “Cradle of Mankind.” Every human being on the planet — Black, white, red, brown and yellow — is a descendant of those original ancestors.
As a child, I had no idea that Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, was a Black man or that Alexander Pushkin, “the father of Russian literature,” was a Black man. Furthermore, no one bothers to make sure that all children know that Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, a Black surgeon, was the first doctor to successfully perform open-heart surgery or that Garrett A. Morgan, another Black genius, invented both the gas mask and the traffic signal, the latter of which he sold to the General Electric Company in 1923.
Africans and people of African descent have a long history of usurped glory. For centuries, “playa-haters” and naysayers have been trying to steal our intellectual and creative thunder. Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop, a dynamic African scholar, proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Egyptians were indeed Black Africans by measuring the residual melanin content in mummy corpses.
An expert in several disciplines, Diop knew that melanin doesn’t disappear with the passage of time in well-preserved corpses. Thus, it would follow, that if these were indeed Black people there would be relatively high levels of melanin found in their mummified remains.
The Western world has felt an exigency to distort, if not totally obliterate, this fact which proves once and for all that Black Africans occupied and constructed one of the earliest and greatest civilizations to ever exist.
To a large extent, the so-called glory of Western civilization depends upon the continuous devaluation and repression of Black history for its credulity and greatness. For example, there is a legion of scholars who have devoted considerable time and energy to efforts to disprove that the legendary storyteller Aesop was a man of color, and understandably so. The influence of Aesop on Western thought and morals is profound.
Plato, Socrates, Aristophanes, Aristotle, Solon, Cicero, Julius Caesar, Caxton, LaFontaine and many others found clarity and inspiration in Aesop’s insights and words of wisdom.
Black historian Joel A. Rogers pointed out years ago that Planudes the Great, a monk of the 14th century who recorded Aesop’s life and fables in their present form, reported that Aesop was a native of Phyrgia in Asia Minor and a Black slave known by his “flat nose…with lips, thick and pendulous and a black skin from which he contracted his name” (Esop being a version of Ethiop).
More than one historian has pointed out that Plato, the most prominent of all Greek scholars, spent 12 years being “schooled” by the Elders of Kemet’s (Egypt) Mystery Schools. Indeed, the Greeks, Babylonians and many other ancient peoples acknowledged Kemet as a great bastion of knowledge and wisdom, a bastion Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop proved was conceived, built and inhabited by Black Africans.
Black history is our story as opposed to his-story, our chance to set the record straight and right the historical wrongs of the past. We must strive to make it a driving force in our daily lives. To overcome the awesome forces that threaten us with complete annihilation, we must summon all the strength, tenacity, courage, vision and resilience of our African ancestors.
There is a long line of sable warriors who have fought valiantly to ensure our survival, among them Cato of Stono, Hannibal, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Martin Delaney, Dangerfield Newby, Harriet Tubman, Ida B.Wells-Barnett, Mary McCleod Bethune, Sojourner Truth, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Crispus Attucks, Charles Lenox Redmond, Shaka Zulu, Nicholas Biddle, Susie King Taylor, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and a host of others.
The fate of African people rests upon whether or not we are able to halt the miseducation of young Black people.
At a very young age, we are taught to hate ourselves, our physical features and our heritage. Part of our dilemma is that we continue to allow others to feed us mental junk food that maims our minds and spirits and renders us 21st-century slaves. Only through deliberate, painstaking research and study can we regain our footing and the history hidden from us for centuries.
It is imperative that we learn to choose our sources wisely. There are at least as many false prophets running around in education circles as there are in the world of religion. As the late, great Asa Hilliard used to remind us all the time, much of what we are taught in the U.S. educational system is more hysterical than it is historical.
And yes, mindcuffs are worse than handcuffs.
This article originally published in the February 24, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.