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For future’s sake, learn the lessons of the past

Published: Sat, February 6, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

I want you to think back to your high school years for a few moments.

Do you remember studying in history about the race riots in 1921 in Tulsa, Okla., that killed nearly 300 people, most of them black, and wiped out a thriving black community?

Did your teachers spend time discussing the race riot that destroyed the black community of Rosewood, Fla., in 1923?

Were you ever assigned to write a paper about the effects the Middle Passage had on African slaves brought to America to prop up this nation’s economy?

In most cases, if you are truthful, the answer to all those questions would be no.

And, I would suggest, high school students in the 21st century probably would give the same answer.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson realized that most of the significant events for black people — the good and the bad — were not being written about or taught in America’s schools. More importantly, he knew many black people didn’t know their own rich history, a history of unimaginable horror as well as a history of indefatigable resilience.

Thus he began Negro History Week, which has morphed into Black History Month, and now African-American History Month.

Woodson chose the second week of February to celebrate black history between the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Douglass, a former slave, went on to become a great orator, writer and abolitionist.

So is Black History Month still relevant?

After all, the United States elected a biracial man to the country’s highest office.

The head coach of the Indianapolis Colts is black, as are five other head coaches in the NFL. The mayors of Youngstown and McDonald are black.

There are black women in Congress. Oprah Winfrey is a billionaire.

Didn’t thousands, perhaps millions of white Americans, donate their hard-earned dollars to help black people after Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti?

Hasn’t this nation shown that equality of all races has finally arrived?

Let me be clear about something few can dispute. The racial divide is this country has closed, and Woodson, the historian, and Martin Luther King Jr., the civil-rights leader, would be encouraged by the gains black people have made in this country, but we still have a long way to go to eradicate racism.

That is why black history is still important and must be emphasized.

Young black people must be taught that their grandparents and great-grandparents once could not vote, eat at certain diners and had to use separate bathrooms and drinking fountains.

They need to know the extended arms of America to welcome European immigrants through Ellis Island in New York never embraced the dark-skinned people from Africa.

Everyone needs to know more about the black people who contributed to building this great nation.

When I was in school, this was the sum total of black history I was taught: Blacks were brought to this country as slaves, and Lincoln freed the slaves; Booker T. Washington was a black educator; and George Washington Carver made great products out of peanuts. I didn’t learn about Tulsa, Rosewood and the Middle Passage until I was in my 30s.

I think all people should have a month to celebrate the uniqueness of their cultures and history. We all need to remember where we came from so we can know where we are headed. And for black folks, February is the month to do that.



1Heard_it_all_before(62 comments)posted 6 years, 4 months ago

Well stated. None of the lessons you mentioned were in my history books in school either. Many of the events you describe are in the not-too-distant past. If we do not remember the past, we run the risk of repeating or continuing the same mistakes it in the future. Great strides HAVE been made, much has changed and many have sacrificed. As with all relationships between people, continuing work needs to be done to maintain what has been gained and to further improve and enrich our shared future. Festivals, celebrations and sharing information and experiences from our diverse cultures is such a valuable tool that enhances understanding. Let's work to remember the lessons we have learned - this month's events are unquestionably worthwhile.

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2Stan(9923 comments)posted 6 years, 3 months ago

So what's your point Ernie ? Many whites suffered over the ages . Irish rioted in New York City . How about the Jews in Europe ? Why do they prosper while the cities are being destroyed by the blacks ? Perhaps a sense of value needs to be taught instead of dwelling on the past . Why do Palestinians here in town operate stores but the blacks don't ? Work ethics and a integral family unit consisting of a mother and father under one roof with their children may just be the answer . Our black mayor here in Youngstown needs to work on getting more job opportunities so the blacks can have a chance to prosper . The plight of todays black man was not Martin Luthers Dream .


“If It Were Not For My Trust in Christ I Do Not Know How I Could Have Endured It”:

Testimony from Victims of New York’s Draft Riots, July, 1863
Between July 13 and 16, 1863, the largest riots the United States had yet seen shook New York City. In the so-called Civil War draft riots, the city’s poor white working people, many of them Irish immigrants, bloodily protested the federally-imposed draft requiring all men to enlist in the Union Army. The rioters took out their rage on their perceived enemies: the Republicans whose wealth allowed them to purchase substitutes for military service, and the poor African Americans—their rivals in the city’s labor market—for whom the war was being fought. On July 20, four days after federal troops put down the uprising, a group of Wall Street businessmen formed a committee to aid New York’s devastated black community. The Committee of Merchants for the Relief of Colored People Suffering from the Late Riots gathered and distributed funds, and collected the following testimony.

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