Wednesday, January 13, 2010


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.

From “The Mis-education of the Negro” by Carter G. Woodson published 1933

Carter Godwin Woodson is regarded as the Father of Black History because in February 1926 he established “Negro History Week” to educate his community about their history. In 1926 when Woodson began this initiative the popular thought was that the history of Africans began with their enslavement and colonization by Europeans. During the enslavement of Africans their white enslavers made a concerted effort to strip Africans of all memory of their culture, language and history. Using savagely brutal means, the slave holders succeeded in wiping all knowledge of African languages, culture and history from the memory of many enslaved Africans and their descendants. Vestiges of the languages, culture and history survived in fragments in every enslaved community. We managed to salvage remnants of our culture, languages and history in whatever European language we were forced to survive. Our African culture survived whether we were forced to speak English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, German or any other European language. In the lyrics of his song “Survival,” Bob Marley sang, “We're the survivors, like Daniel out of the lions’ den (Black survivors).” Like our culture and history, we survived, fragmented in many cases, disconnected in many cases, traumatized in many cases, but we survived. Woodson choose the second week of February for the reclaiming of our history because he wanted to commemorate the memory of Frederick Douglass. Douglass was an enslaved African who escaped slavery and became one of the most well known abolitionists. Douglass claimed February 14th as his birthday because his mother called him her “little valentine.” As an enslaved African he did not have access to a record of his birth date. Douglass was also one of the few formerly enslaved Africans who wrote an autobiography. Recognizing that African history was being ignored or misrepresented in America, Woodson began his quest to educate America about the accomplishments of Africans. He was opposed by some African Americans but this is not surprising because there are many of us who have been successfully brainwashed. The contributions of African people from ancient times to the present in subjects such as mathematics, science, social studies, language and art has been ignored. Woodson was born December 19th, 1875, ten years after his parents had been emancipated from slavery. Slavery was abolished in the USA in 1865 with the passing into law of the 13th amendment to the American constitution.

The virulent anti-African racism of the southern United States prevented Woodson from attending school on a regular basis until he was 17 years old. That was not a deterrent to this young African American who is said to have possessed an unquenchable thirst for learning from an early age. Whenever the opportunity presented itself he attended the local school and eventually went to Berea College in Kentucky. He persevered and received a B.A. from the University of Chicago in 1907. In 1908 he attended the Sorbonne University in Paris where he became fluent in French. He received a Ph.D. in History from Harvard University in 1912, becoming the second African-American to earn such a degree. Woodson taught briefly and held educational administrative posts in the Philippines, at Howard University (where he was Dean of the School of Liberal Arts), and West Virginia State College. He was the founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and the Journal of Negro History , in Chicago in 1915, which is still in existence. He wrote more than a hundred articles and 125 book reviews which were published in the Journal of Negro History. Dr. Woodson’s activism was viewed as controversial by some members of the African American community. On January 28, 1915, he wrote a letter to Archibald Grimke the Chairman of the recently organized Washington, D.C. branch of the NAACP expressing his dissatisfaction with the NAACP. Woodson made a few suggestions in this letter that came to be viewed as too controversial for the NAACP. His proposals were that the branch rent an office and there establish a center to which African Americans could report their concerns about racism and from which the Association could extend its operations into every part of the city. His second suggestion was that twenty-five canvassers be appointed to enlist members and obtain subscriptions for the Crisis, the NAACP publication edited by W.E.B. Dubois. Woodson also suggested "diverting patronage from business establishments which do not treat races alike." He offered to support this initiative by working as a canvasser adding that he would pay the rent for the office for one month. It seems Grimke as the NAACP spokesperson did not welcome Dr. Woodson’s ideas. In a letter dated March 18, 1915, in response to a letter from Grimke’ regarding his proposals, Woodson wrote, "I am not afraid of being sued by white businessmen. In fact, I should welcome such a law suit. It would do the cause much good. Let us banish fear. We have been in this mental state for three centuries. I am a radical. I am ready to act, if I can find brave men to help me." Needless to say, Dr. Woodson's association with the NAACP and Grimke was short-lived. In contrast, Dr. Woodson was a regular columnist for Marcus Garvey's weekly publication “The Negro World.” Never one to shy away from seemingly “controversial subjects,” Woodson utilized the pages of the Negro World to advocate for the inclusion of African history in the curricula of educational institutions. Woodson’s efforts to include African culture and history into the curricula of institutions were unsuccessful because “highly educated Negroes” subscribed to the idea of white supremacy. They had been mis-educated in European centred institutions, to despise themselves and their people. Woodson wrote in his “Mis-education of the Negro” published in 1933; “The so-called modern education, with all its defects, however, does others so much more good than it does the Negro, because it has been worked out in conformity to the needs of those who have enslaved and oppressed weaker peoples. For example, the philosophy and ethics resulting from our educational system have justified slavery, peonage, segregation, and lynching. The oppressor has the right to exploit, to handicap, and to kill the oppressed. Negroes daily educated in the tenets of such a religion of the strong have accepted the status of the weak as divinely ordained, and during the last three generations of their nominal freedom they have done practically nothing to change it.” It has been suggested that this lack in the education system was Woodson’s reason for leaving his position at Howard University and his dedication to educating North America and eventually the world about the history, achievements and contributions of Africans through the establishment of a week long educational that has been extended to an entire month.

We have recognized and celebrated the history of Africans in Canada since the 1950s when the Canadian Negro Women's Association began the celebration of the community’s history in Canada. This work was continued by the efforts of Stan Grizzle and the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) which led to the recognition province wide in 1979 of February as Black History Month. In December 1995, Canada's federal parliament officially recognized February as Black History Month. The motion, which was initiated by MP Jean Augustine, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, received unanimous approval. Dr. Augustine is the first African Canadian woman elected to the Canadian Federal Parliament in its now 137 year history. The first national observation of February as Black History Month in Canada was in February 1996. In 2008 in Toronto, on the eve of African Heritage Month, our community achieved another historic milestone, the culmination of decades of lobbying, studies and reports. The decision by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) to establish an alternative African centred school was greeted with joy and some sense of relief and accomplishment as was expressed by our community in a press conference on Thursday morning, February 7th, 2008. There is much more work to be done before this school becomes a reality but we are up to the task. We have come a long way since the days when Dr. Woodson struggled to have the recognition that we even have a history. During this month whether we name it Black History Month, African History Month or African Liberation Month we need to recognize and commemorate the global history of Africans.

Written in February 2008

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