This book will explore pivotal moments in African American history that people either ignore or misinterpret. The goal is to inform society of the ways in which history affects current living conditions for Americans. Before we cover these ten important events, people and places, it is important that we also discuss the ways that people misconceive African American History. I, as a college instructor, find nothing more frustrating than having students enter my classes with minds filled with erroneous thinking about blacks. This common occurrence renders the college classroom less about learning than about “unlearning.”
1. The first Black approach to History. This theme seems to dominate much popular history of blacks. Books, movies and television shows highlight the first black to achieve some success. While these names and dates are important, learning the facts mean nothing if we do not attach some significance to the event. Just because a person of color was the first to achieve some task does not mean anything subsequently changed for the better of the black population. This fact renders most “first black” history meaningless.
2. Leaders frozen in time. Most black historical figures have a moment in which they reach the pinnacle of their success. For Martin Luther King, for example, that moment was the 1963 March on Washington. For Rosa Parks, it was her arrest on a Montgomery bus. Popular histories of these people follow a pattern of ignoring subsequent political activities of the individual that do not agree with our acceptable version of their lives. King became more radical in the later years of his life, dying as he attempted to plan a march of thousands of poor whites and blacks in the nation’s capital. He was persona non grata in the White House, for criticizing the U.S. role in Vietnam, President Johnson referring to him as “that nigger preacher!” Similarly, Rosa Parks lived for decades after Montgomery, found it hard to maintain employment, moved to Detroit and remained active in political struggles. But, our popular histories ignore the realities that inform us of the truth of black existence. King was a complicated man whose politics ultimately made him unpopular with many blacks and whites. Rosa Parks was a determined woman whose gender led people to expect her silence.
More to come…