Carter Godwin Woodson, “the father of Negro (Black) history,” remains an invaluable source of historic information and critical thinking which prepares today’s young African Americans to confront and challenge the persistent racism that continues to plague the national psyche. Ninety years ago, when most sources of public information characterized African Americans as ignorant, non-contributing, subhuman vermin who had no legitimate place in American society, Carter G. Woodson was a vocal champion of African American contributions to the nation and the reconstruction of a new, positive mindset among African Americans. In my opinion, the 1933 publication of his “The Mis-Education of the Negro” is one of the most important literary works introduced to African Americans and this nation.
Among his notable quotations (and one of my favorites) is: “If the Negro in the ghetto must eternally be fed by the hand that pushes him into the ghetto, he will never become strong enough to get out of the ghetto.” In the context of my interpretation, the ghetto is not a location, it is a mindset. In that same context, feeding is more than food, it is the constant barrage of information that molds our thinking.
During this year’s celebration of Black History Month, we must reevaluate the information or lack thereof, we and our children are being fed. The real destruction of a race begins with the destruction of its children. Woodson states: “As another has well said, to handicap a student by teaching him that his black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worst sort of lynching.”
Fast forward to January 2023 in America. As recently reported by ABC News’ Averi Harper, members of the Ron DeSantis-appointed Florida Department of Education rejected the optional AP African American Studies program in a letter to SAT test administrators, the College Board, incorrectly claiming that the program “significantly lacks educational value.” Given appropriate thought and consideration, this offensively bold assertion negates the presence of African Americans in this nation. This is not a new or unexpected phenomenon, but one must ask how this position affects the student who sees no evidence of “self” in her/his educational process.
This “theft” of history may be codified in Florida, but it is replicated in so many other academic jurisdictions. A lack of relevant knowledge by teachers or their direct intent to ignore or exclude Black History from local curricula delivers the same result. Woodson opines, “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.” Or even worse, “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”
Woodson echoes my greatest fear, “The education of the Negroes, then, the most important thing in the uplift of the Negroes, is almost entirely in the hands of those who have enslaved them and now segregate them.” If we accept this reality, we have limited choices in our plan to resolve this problem.
I submit that when/where our numbers are sufficiently large or when we can collaborate with other “out” groups to exert our influence, that we do so. White supremacy is sustained and enlarged with the exclusion of the historic contributions of those they wish to demean. The historic reduction of their self-aggrandizement only diminishes their truth of superiority.
When our numbers are insufficient to exert that measure of influence, we must do it the old-fashioned way — we must value, learn, and then teach our history. No one will do this for us. No one else has a vested interest.