Carter G. Woodson
Carter G. Woodson

Historian and professor, Dr. John Henrik Clarke, was once asked why is there a need for an African-American History Month, as there is no similar month for any other minority group in America.

Historically, “African-Americans were the least integrated and most neglected of these groups in the historical interpretation of the American experience. This neglect made African-American History Month a necessity,” Clarke said.

He also noted that “Early white American historians did not accord African people anywhere a respectful place in their commentaries on the history of man. In the closing years of the 19th century, African-American historians began to look at their people’s history from their vantage point and point of view.”

Dr. Benjamin Quarks made that observation as early as 1883, followed by Dr. W.E.B. DuBois’s doctoral dissertation, published in 1895 at Harvard University.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson, an African-American historian, author, journalist and father of Black History Week which evolved into Black History Month, conceived the idea, convinced that unless something was done to rescue the Black man from history’s oversight, he would become a “negligible factor in the thought process of the world.”

In 1915, he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Woodson believed that Negro History was simply a missing segment of world history. He devoted the greater portion of his life to restoring this segment.

Dr. Dubois said much the same: “Nearly every human empire that has arisen in the world, material and spiritual, has found some of its greatest crises on the continent of Africa.”

The Nile Valley of civilization of Africa had already brought forth two Golden Ages of achievement and left its mark for all the world to see before Herodotus, a Greek writer, geographer and historian who visited Africa circa 450 B.C. wrote eyewitness accounts of African civilizations in decline and

partly ruined after numerous invasions. Much of the history of Africa was written by foreigners, missionaries and adventurers. The Egyptians left the best record of their history written by writers from the culture and locale. It wasn’t until the end of the 18th century when European scholars learned to decipher their writing that their impact was recognized.

Europeans colonized lands but they also colonized information about the world and its people. In order to do that, they had to forget, or pretend to forget, that the first Africans they met were not slaves. European scholars attempted for years to deny that Egypt is a part of Africa.

According to most records, cultural and scientific, Africans are the oldest people on the face of the earth. The people now called Africans not only influenced the Greeks and the Romans but influenced the early world before there was a place called Europe.

For years, historians and other scholars have gone back and forth, discussing the location of the “cradle of man.” Many guessed it was in Asia. But in 1871, Charles Darwin, the British naturalist, determined it was Africa. A fossilized skull of a man, thought to be 2.6 million years old, was discovered in a desert in Nairobi, Kenya, proving Darwin correct some 100 years later.

The discovery was made by Richard Leakey, a scientist and the son of missionary parents, Dr. Mary and Dr. Louis B. Leakey, both anthropologists. Richard, who became the administrative director of the National Museum of Kenya, said his findings convinced him that “man walked from Africa out to all the other continents.

“If there was a garden of Eden, I would call it the African continent,” he said.

Since then, discoveries have continued elsewhere on the African continent, so much so, that many now refer to Africa as “the cradle of mankind.”

Dr. Clarke, who died July 16, 1998, said, “African or Black History should be taught every day, not only in the schools but in the home. African-American History Month should be every month. We need to learn about all the African people of the world, including those who live in Asia and on the islands of the Pacific.”

“In the 21st century, there will be over one billion African people in the world. We are tomorrow’s people. But, of course, we were yesterday’s people too. With an understanding of our new importance, we can change the world, if first we change ourselves,” Clarke said.

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