Monday February 26, 2018 will mark 92 years since Dr. Carter G. Woodson announced the commemoration of Negro History Week.
In 1976, this commemoration was expanded to include the entire month of February. Dr. Woodson’s initiative to recognize black history came at a time when African-Americans were barely mentioned in U.S. history. Without his initiative we may have known little of the historical contributions of African-Americans such as Ida B. Wells, civil rights & woman’s suffrage pioneer, and co-founder of the NAACP; George Washington Carver, famous black agricultural scientist who invented over 300 products from the peanut; Harriet Tubman, famous for establishing the underground railroad to free those enslaved; and Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, who performed the first successful open heart surgery. The list goes on, but as we commemorate the accomplishments of African-Americans, we must remind ourselves that these are and should continue to be included as part of United States history.
Although black history does not begin with slavery, the advent of slavery created cultural nuances and sociopolitical mechanisms that continue to impact current struggles for civil rights in U.S. institutions. The transatlantic slave trade officially began in the early 1500s. In 1619 African slaves arrived in Jamestown, Virginia and the institution of slavery in the United States was born. In 1641, Massachusetts became the first colony to legalize slavery. From 1650 to 1664 Connecticut, Virginia, Maryland, New York and New Jersey followed suit. In fact, a Virginia statute in 1662 declared that children born to a slave woman would have the same status as their mother, thereby making slavery perpetual. It is important to note that in 1688 Pennsylvania Quakers passed an anti-slavery resolution and were instrumental in helping to establish the “Underground Railroad” to free those enslaved. Despite their efforts, in 1700 slavery was legalized in Pennsylvania. In 1788 the U.S. Constitution was adopted and included the three-fifths clause, which declared that slaves would get counted as three-fifths of a white person for the purpose of congressional representation. Congress prohibited slave trade between the U.S, and other countries in 1704 and in 1799 New York adopted a gradual emancipation law. In 1804 the “Underground Railroad” was established. In 1808 the U.S. banned the Atlantic slave trade but then Washington enacted “black codes” restricting the movement of African Americans. In 1819 the U.S declared slave trading a capital offense but, African Americans were prohibited from learning to read in Virginia.
This saga continued for the next 40 years until the onset of the Civil War in 1861. On January 1, 1863 President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in the rebellion area and, on January 31, 1865 slavery is abolished in all states by the Thirteenth Amendment. On November 23, 1865, my maternal grandfather was born and two weeks later, December 6, 1865 the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified. The next 99 years before my grandfather’s passing in December 9, 1966, the U.S. would endure “Jim Crow” laws, race riots, lynching, and extreme racial strife in many of our governmental institutions. In 1964 President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, and 44 years later an overwhelming majority of Americans voted in their first African-American man, Barak Hussein Obama, as the 44th President of these United States of America.
We should remember, especially in today’s climate, that we are by no means “out of the woods”, but it does illustrate America’s diversity is her strength and not her weakness. We should imbue those ideals that make our country great and not recede to the mistakes of the past. We have inherited the work of countless pioneers for freedom, justice and equality. To put it more succinctly, all the heavy lifting has been done and we stand on the shoulders of giants. Let’s work hard together, discarding past mistakes, embracing those ideals that truly made this country great and continue praying for God’s blessings and guidance.
Blog entry by: Mustafaa Carroll