I Am, A Man: Black History Month

My husband recently wore to work the “I Am, A Man” T-shirt he had purchased last year at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. He works mostly with 20-somethings and they were all baffled by the slogan. We were baffled by their bafflement but shouldn’t have been. The civil rights era is rapidly fading into the remote past and we have elected our first African-American president.

Yet this slogan still gives me chills. That in my lifetime, growing up as I did in Memphis, black sanitation workers would demand to be treated simply as men. “Garbage men” in Memphis at that time made 25 cents an hour. The white man’s dogs chased and bit them. At night, when they went home, they shook maggots from rotting garbage out of their clothes.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was in Memphis in 1968 to support the sanitation workers strike, which escalated in late March after a policeman shot and killed a black striker. On April 4, King was assassinated as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. As the news went out that night, black communities across America went up in flames.

I have written about growing up during desegregation in my novel Mr. Touchdown. And I’ve also blogged about the time I was caught up in the March Against Fear and had a face-to-face moment with Stokely Carmichael.

But few middle-grade or young adult novels deal with that turbulent period in American history. Many kids today are so beyond racism that skin color is almost meaningless for them. And they find novels about “the black problem” preachy and depressing. I can get with that, yet …

It’s a cliche to quote George Santayana for the millionth time that, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But it’s true. And perhaps this era is becoming so remote that readers, students of history, can once again reverberate to the passion of that plea: I Am, A Man.

In the deep South in the 1950s and 1960s, a white man had the right to vote; a black man did not. A black man could not eat with white men, could not use whites-only restrooms, could not sit in the same waiting rooms in the train station with white people, could not send his children to school with white children. The injustice of this is incomprehensible now. Isn’t it?

In the course of writing and visiting schools and book festivals with Mr. Touchdown, I have collected this list of novels for young readers that deal with Black History Month topics.

Let’s keep reading about the past, lest we forget and are doomed to repeat it.

10 thoughts on “I Am, A Man: Black History Month

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  2. As always, Lyda, your writing says everything that many of us want to express, but don’t have your gifts. Some of my friends in more conservative circles have the attitude of “Well, we’ll see.” But that is a big step forward from their previous attitudes. I think Mr. T is such a profound statement of the bewilderment of the young white kids and the bravery of the young black kids.And, I really like the new cover!


  3. BLACK HISTORY MONTH, IS IT STILL RELEVANT?By Fahim A. Knight-ELBlack History Month, why is it necessary? This writer could simply answer this question by referencing what the founder of Black History Month; Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) called “The Mis-Education of the Negro”. No, the election of President Barack Obama does not signify that the celebration of Black History month has become insignificant, outdated or has out lived its purpose and relevance. The dominant society has elevated President Obama and his achievement as a means to silence the racial contradictions that exist in America both past and present. But this token promotion does not resolve all the past and present disparities which continue to factor into America’s social dynamics. (Reference: C. Eric Lincoln; “Coming through the Fire: Surviving Race and Place in America”).This writer and millions of other African Americans are proud of President Obama’s monumental achievement and his reaching the highest political office in the world, but we know this does not begin to address the real social, political and economic issues effecting African American people. Thus, we should not put our guards down and become complacent and thinking that we have arrived and America has finally become a true melting pot where as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached that we are now being judged by the content of our character and not by the color of our skin. (Reference: Cornel West; “Race Matters”).President Obama’s appointment does not resolve race issues in America and we forever need the voices of Louis Farrakhan, Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Father Phleger, Cornel West, Malik Zulu Shabazz, Michael Dyson, etc., to remind us and America that the struggle for liberation continues and we will not be duped nor deceived by a token appointment and we call that progress. Our revolutionary scholars and activist can not be lured to sleep and cease to fight for freedom, justice and equality just because President Obama has become the so-called first African American president of these United States of America. The struggle is continuum and we must not allow ourselves to be intentionally placed in a lax mode. (Reference: Michael Eric Dyson: “Race Rules: Navigating the Color Line”).Dr. Carter G. Woodson stated: “When a Negro has finished his education in our schools, then he has been equipped to begin the life of an Americanized Europeanized white man, but before he steps from the threshold of his alma mater he is told by his teachers that he must go back to his own people from whom he has been estranged by vision of ideals which in his disillusionment he will realize he cannot attain. He goes forth to play his part in life, but he must be both social and bi-social at the same time. While he is part of the body politic, he is in addition to this a member of a particular race to which he must restrict himself in all matter social. While serving his country he must serve within a special group. While being a good American, he must above all things be a “good Negro”; and to perform this definite function he must learn to stay in a “Negro’s place.” “(Reference: Woodson; “The Mis-Education of the Negro” pg 4).This writer detest the Black History month pimps who are paid handsome honorariums to crisscross America speaking at colleges and universities in which many of these tired 1960s armchair revolutionaries have sold out and are just hustling outdated theories and have lost the meaning of conviction. I have no respect for these intellectual pimps who live bourgeoisie life styles and are hidden in white America’s ivory towers and have become part of the so-called privileged class. They only promote black history to make money; some of these Negroes make $10,000 to $20,000 per speech given these glorified and apolitical black cultural talks which are very safe and non-threaten and supports the status quo.Thus, after Black History month these Negroes disappear and black history is left to languish in obscurity until next year. They chose the shortest month of the year to honor the oldest history and longest (African History) to ever be recorded; twenty-eight days (28) does not even begin to allow us to scratch the surface. The study of African history must be 365 days; this writer is very familiar with Woodson choosing February because of the 19th Century Black leader Fredrick Douglas was born in this month and the so-called great black emancipator Abraham Lincoln was also born in this month. February was chosen in honor of these two American icons.My keeping it Real Think Tank has an African American base and it has always been my primary audience, but I would be foolish to deny or disregard like minds of other races and cultures that share and understand the struggle we are up against, which affects all of humanity. But the African American has always been in a precarious situation in America, which stems from their history under Chattel Slavery (1555-1865). This history has never been redeemed and atoned; it therefore, continues to pose a dichotomy and creates and antagonistic social contradiction inside of America. It easy for people to say, we should overlook the 310 years of subjugation and are not sensitive to one of most inhumane crimes ever recorded in human history. (Reference: Ida Hakim; “Reparations: The Cure for America’s Race Problem”).Chattel Slavery literally devastated a people psychologically, socially and culturally and the present generations of African Americans were never allowed to heal and yet just 150 years removed from the brutality they are still dealing with this not so distant history. This is not a cry of victimization or seeking sympathy, but it is a reality, that this history haunts the psyche of most black people, if they are honest. The United States as a governmental entity has never had a serious conversation relative to race and racism and as a nation we have been in denial and the issue of race therefore remains unresolved even in 2009. So, this sense of cultural and historical duality automatically breeds a position of nationalism because here goes a people that have lost their names, religion, land and lost a cultural reference point and there will always be a need to remind them of the value of their history prior to Chattel Slavery. (Reference: Richard Williams; “They Stole it, But You Must Return it”).This writer was drilled by his college professors at a small Liberal Arts university in North Carolina in the value of the study of Black History. Professors such as Dr. Earlie Thorpe, Dr. David W. Bishop, Dr. Stephen Fortune, Dr. Percy Murray, Dr. Beverly Washington-Jones, Dr. Sylvia Jacobs, Dr. Freddie Parker, etc., were some of the best traditional historians in the United States—the history department was prominent and a well respected department headed by qualified scholars. Thus, as much as, this writer could appreciate these professional historians’ perspectives, it was not enough to captivate my imagination. (Reference: Earl Thorpe; “The Central Theme of Black History”).But, it wasn’t until this writer came in contact with the likes of Elijah Muhammad, J.A. Rogers, Dr. Yosef Ben Jochannon, Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Dr. Chancellor Williams, Dr. John G. Jackson, Dr. Cheik Anta Diop, Dr. Ivan VanSertima, Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Dr. Marimba Ani, Runoko Rashidi, Dr. Maulana Karenga, Dr. Naim Akbar, etc., that my thinking evolved, it was these scholars who took my thinking to next level as it pertains to the study of African history and no doubt their views were outside the box and it challenged the system of white supremacy. These above scholars are true Black History advocates who have not compromised the principles of truth. They have uprooted the lies, half-truths and the historical distortions giving to us by the dominant culture. (Reference: Kwaku Person-Lynn; “First Word, Black Scholars, Thinkers, Warriors”).This curriculum that was taught gave me a greater appreciation for the struggle and accomplishments that African Americans had made in world history before their sojourn as slaves. This writer oftentimes finds himself differing with white social activist and liberals when it comes to issues relating to race and yet we share some commonality on other political, social and economic issues. They desire to downplay the effects of race and racism and this writer has to constantly remind them that an unbalance playing field was created due to Chattel Slavery (1555-1865) and thereafter with Jim Crow (legal segregation). Black History month evolved out of these social dynamics because America’s race relations had denied people of African descendent their humanity and had systematically denigrated them to an inferior status for over four hundred (400) years. (Reference: C. Vann Woodard; “The strange Career of Jim Crow”).Dr. Woodson stated: No systematic effort toward change has been possible, for, taught the same economics, history, philosophy, literature and religion which have established the present code of morals, the Negro’s mind has been brought under the control of his oppres­sor. The problem of holding the Negro down, therefore, is eas­ily solved. When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary. (Reference: Carter G. Woodson; “The Mis-Education of the Negro” pg. ix).Africa was called the “Dark Continent” interpreted to meaning they gave nothing to human civilization and although the nations of Ethiopia (Cush) and Egypt (Kemet) had splendid histories in which these African societies arguably fed all of humanity and were the birth places of man. It has been recorded that students from around the world came to learn from the wise ancient Sages of Cush (Ethiopia) and Kemet (Egypt). The scholars and social scientist are still baffled of how the Nubian Egyptians constructed the Eighth Wonder of the world—the building of the pyramids; surely these Africans were not inferior in their intellectual capacity. The science of medicine, mathematics, astronomy, religion, art, science, geometry, hydraulics, engineering, philosophy, architect, etc., originated on the African continent. (Reference: John G. Jackson; “Introduction to African Civilization”).This writer is often amused by European Bloggers who have delved into various dimensions of Kemet (Egypt) and have come up with geometric and physics based reasoning to explain our sacred temples and pyramids of Kemet (Egypt) and not mention that it was Africans who left this puzzle for humanity to resolve. The Scholars Wallis Budge, Sir Godfrey Higgins, Albert Churchward, George Frazer, Manly P. Hall, Madam Blavatsky, Gerald Massey, H.G. Wells, Will Durant, etc., recognized that builders of the Kemetic pyramid structures were Africans. These modern day Egyptian intellectuals talk around this fact and they desire to place Egypt (Kemet) in the Middle East (there is such no place called the Middle East; the only thing that separates this territory from Africa is a man made ditch called the Suez Canal; for those who still do not know Egypt is in Africa) or come up with some false mulattoe ethnic race in order to deny the Blackness of Egypt. (Reference: Cheik Anta Diop; “Civilization Or Barbarism”).I think America grew to become an even more ethnocentric society between World War 11 and the Cold War (1941-1989) periods whereas subjects like world geography and world civilizations weren’t deemed important and our educational philosophy was not being formulated around where the world was headed (globalism and the global market of ideas). We had arrogantly, selfishly and ignorantly embraced what we deemed as Americanism or better yet Eurocentrism. This thought led us to believe that everything from ideas—cultures and human achievements evolved around America —a so-called “superior culture” that had in one sense become isolated and it was this idea that contributed to the dummying down of America.The Afrocentric movement led by Dr. Molefi Kete Asante and other scholars challenged America and all Western Education to reconsider, in particular how Africa was being viewed and how blacks were being viewed stemmed more from cultural ignorance and the educational curriculums reflected this institutionalize ignorance and was contributing toward our cultural incompetence . Although, this argument had its political, social and economic limitations; nevertheless, it forced American educators in the mid 1980s and 1990s to adopt educational strategies that would reflect and encompass the pluralism and the cultural diversity of our society. (Reference: Molefi Kete Asante; Afrocentricity).This was a step to correct a nation’s psyche and redirect an educational ideology that had gone off course; this led to the multi-cultural movement, a movement to correct and address global projections once it was finally realized where the rest of the world was headed. I just do not think past great educational philosophers had the foresight to look deep in the future and create social theories that could stand without the need of any new assessments and evaluations which to make them relevant to where we are in this space and time. But blacks were robbed of a knowledge of self in this process they lost their culture, names, religion, folkways, mores and by being kidnapped they even lost their land.Slavery was the greatest criminal act ever committed against humanity; it divided black slaves who spoke the same tribal languages and shared an ethnic heritage (dividing of the families had tremendous everlasting impact on African Americans). Slavery worked to disconnect blacks from their history and destroyed their linkage to a past and justified all manners of oppression and subjugation by calling Blacks the biblical children of Ham and depicted Blacks as being cursed base on their interpretation of the Bible. This theological interpretation more than anything else justified racism and white supremacy; it led to a subsiding of moral and ethical criticism based on this so-called divine system of reasoning. Blacks were denied the right to read and write (other than the Bible); learning for them was outlawed and a crime. They could be killed if caught with a book during chattel slavery. (Reference: John Blassingame; “The Slave Community”).The Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches that history builds the springs and motives of human actions, it empowers a people beyond dates and events to come to know the contribution their ancestors made on the stage of human civilization. Many do not know that a black man named Granville T. Woods invented the telephone system and apparatus; Phillip B. Downing invented the letter box; William B. Purvis invented the fountain pen; Joseph V. Nichols and Lewis H. Latimer invented the electric lamp; W.A. Lavalette; Robert F. Flemmings, Jr., invented the guitar; John Stanard invented the refrigerator; Norbert Rillieux improved the sugar making process; George W. Kelley invented the steam table; Willis Johnson invented the Egg Beater; John Albert Burr invented the Lawn Mower; J.H. Smith invented the Lawn Sprinkler; George F. Grant invented the golf tee; Oscar E. Brown invented the horseshoe; Jan E. Matzeliger invented the shoe lasting machine; M.C. Harney invented the lantern or lamp, etc. (Reference: Ivan VanSertima; “Blacks in Science”).This writer can go on and on about the countless inventions that African Americans made in which many were stolen because they could not get a patent for their inventions based on racism. These Black unsung heroes have languished as the unknown contributors toward the advancement of our culture refinement. While others profited financially off the inventions of African American and racism allowed them to be exploited and even to this day they have not received any compensation. No, we can not just overlook this and every intelligent African American who has come into the knowledge of self has a job, duty and responsibility to expose America’s hypocrisy. Even in 2009 the above cited contributions have almost been totally written out of American history and our children are given a distorted view of history based on the practices of intellectual racism. So the establishment of Black History month serves as an attempt to correct the wrongs and to give people a truer perspective of African Americans historical accomplishments seen outside the visual realms of the former slave masters and their children. (Reference: Chip Smith; “The Cost of Privilege: Taking On The System of White Supremacy and Racism”).American history has been tainted by 400 years of racial politics and it has unjustly denigrated other people who were not of European descendent as inferior and relegated them to an insignificant role within the scheme of American history. In 1925 Dr. Carter G. Woodson recognized that African Americans were sixty (60) years removed from slavery and had suffered a tremendous systematic disconnectedness from a glorious past. Woodson was a well trained scholar who had received a Ph.D in history from Harvard University in 1912 and was the second black behind W.E.B. Dubois to earn a Ph.D in history from Harvard 1895. Woodson was a contemporary of Marcus Garvey and use to write articles for Garvey’s publication titled, “The Negro World.” Garvey advocated Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism—Garvey preached back to Africa and self-reliance. (Reference: J.A. Rogers; “The World’s Great Men of Color”).Woodson may have shared in some of Garvey’s political, economic and social philosophy, but I believed Woodson was entrapped by his own western education. He may have empathized with some of Garvey’s views, but as an intellectual perhaps wasn’t willing to embrace Garvey’s hardcore Black Nationalism teachings on separation and his call for a Pan-African state. However, no black leader did more to inspire and connect Diaspora blacks to Africa and to create African worldview than Garvey. His philosophy was steeped in African tradition and represented a symbolic fulfillment of the prodigal sons and daughters having an identified home being Africa. But more importantly in theory, it reaffirmed their traditional linkage to a long lost culture and heritage. (Reference: Harold Cruse; “The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual”).The establishment of Negro History week (it was originally called Negro History week prior to becoming Black History Month in 1976 and it was co-founded by Omega Psi Phi Fraternity) was essentially a reaction to white American style racism. American history had precluded blacks and there wasn’t too many positive black images being offered in the text books and often blacks contributions were minimized to a footnote or was just outright discarded. Dr. Woodsin in 1916 founded the Journal of Negro History (presently called the Journal of African American History) where he began to write and publish scholarly and scientific research articles on varying aspects of black history. Woodson used this periodical to prove to the world that blacks indeed had made a worthwhile contribution, in particular to American history and world history in general. Woodson served as its first editor from (1916-1950), Rayford Logan (1950-1951), William M. Brewer (1952-1970), W. August Low (1970-1974), Lorraine A. Williams (1974-1976), Alton Hornsby (1976- 2001), etc., these were some of the early editors of the Journal of Negro History.Woodson stated: “A further examination of their curricula shows, too, that invariably these Negro colleges offer courses in Greek philoso­phy and in that of modern European thought, but they direct no attention to the philosophy of the African. Negroes of Africa have and always have had their own ideas about the nature of the universe, time, and space, about appearance and reality, and about freedom and necessity. The effort of the Negro to inter­pret man’s relation to the universe shows just as much intelli­gence as we find in the philosophy of the Greeks. There were many Africans who were just as wise as Socrates.” (Woodson: “The Mis-Education of the Negro” pg 89).Woodson in 1915 founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (presently called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) all geared toward rectifying the intellectual damage caused by the brutal system of Chattel Slavery. Many historians have tried to piece the black experience together from remnants of scattered records because blacks were considered as the white man’s property—vital statistics (family names, birthdays, siblings, tribal affiliation, etc.) were not kept on African slaves. Also, during early United States Census reports blacks were only listed as property. (Reference: Herbert G. Gutman; “The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom 1750-1925”).Early on scholars such as W.E. B Dubois wrote extensively on varying aspects of African and African American history using his pen to reclaim the black man’s past. Dubois first book was titled, “Suppression of the African Slave Trade”, “The Souls of Black Folk,” The Philadelphia Negro,” “The Autobiography of W.E.B. Dubois,” “From Dust of Dawn” and perhaps his most celebrated work was titled, “Encyclopedia Africana” this writer does not think he ever completed this monumental project, but it was dedicated toward a pulling together of African people’s history from around the world. But I believe Dr. Henry Louis Gates may have completed what Dubois started fifty (50) years ago. (Reference: W.E.B. Dubois and Herbert Aptheker (editor); “The Education of Black People: Ten Critiques, 1906-1960”).Dr. Woodson also wrote and researched extensively and as a professional historian, he and Dubois took the study of African American history to the next level based on their use of empirical research methods, as for as scientifically approaching black history as a credible field of study.Dubois stated: “The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife—this longing to attain self-conscious man­hood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach ‘the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.” (Reference: W.E.B. Dubois; “The Souls of Black “Folk pg. 45-46).Woodson perhaps authored one of the most definitive books examining the social, political and economic mindset of the African American titled, “The Mis-Education of the Negro” first published in 1933. This book answers the critics’ opposition to why African American still find it necessary to promote and advocate Black History Month every February. Racism is systemic and you can not reverse three hundred ten (310) years of human brutality which created certain attitudes and behavior as a result it became inculcated in the psychology of a nation.Fahim A. Knight-EL Chief Researcher for KEEPING IT REAL THINK TANK located in Durham, NC; our mission is to inform African Americans and all people of goodwill, of the pending dangers that lie ahead; as well as decode the symbolisms and reinterpreted the hidden meanings behind those who operate as invisible forces, but covertly rules the world. We are of the belief that an enlightened world will be better prepared to throw off the shackles of ignorance and not be willing participants for the slaughter. Our MOTTO is speaking truth to power. Fahim A. Knight-EL can be reached at fahimknight@yahoo.com.Stay Awake Until We Meet Again,Fahim A. Knight-EL


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