Voices From the Inside Out: Afrikan-American History Month, January 5, 2017
The above title is the latest designation of the idea to promote the history of north amerika’s formerly enslaved people. The idea was the brainchild of prominent Afrikan-American historian, Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) and first arose as Negro History Week.
The high tide of Black rebellion during the 1960s and 1970s led to the expansion of Negro History Week and changed its designation to Black History Month. The rise of the Black middle class caused another change and it became Afrikan-American History Month.
The original idea for the study of Afrikan-American History grew out of a need to develop a collective sense of self-confidence and a sense of agency in the descendants of former slaves. This was deemed necessary due to the intensification of racial violence during the early 20th century, which also was when the film The Birth of a Nation by D.W. Griffith (1916) made its debut and greatly influenced the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan. Imbued with the agency that an appropriate interpretation of our true heritage should provide, the formerly enslaved became consciously armed with the past achievements of their people. They could not only confront their violent reality but also develop practical strategies and tactics to overcome their oppression.
WHERE ARE WE TODAY?
Every year in January there is a lot of attention given to the great civil rights icon, Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968); and rightfully so, given King’s contribution towards the equality of humankind. But the real essence of King’s legacy is intentionally not being brought out in the yearly celebrations.
During the last year of his life, King’s focus was centered on the root of racial/class oppression, i.e., economic relations. He recognized that the war on poverty could not be won due to the economic drain of the Vietnam War. King sought to move forward with a plan to lead a poor people’s campaign on the national capitol and directly confront members of Congress. Had King lived, that would have been a bold attempt to confront the issue of inequality at amerika’s seat of power. The threat of such a campaign embodied a two-fold nature: 1. The redistribution of wealth, which could harm amerika’s geopolitical position in the world; 2. It would alter domestic capitalistic social relations, potentially setting the stage for building different social relations founded on humanist values. It is this, perhaps more than anything else, that hastened King’s assassination. Crucially this is where King left off and is what the serious upholder of his legacy should not only recognize, but champion.
At the moment there is a wide range of workers clamoring for a living wage. At the same time it appears that some are having difficulty grasping the nature of the economic forces arrayed against them. This constitutes a dilemma for workers that must be overcome if further revolutionary progress is to be had. A clear view of the undeclared war between capital and labor is absolutely necessary. Having a concrete understanding of the dynamics of capitalism will help prevent workers from getting sidetracked by the empty rhetoric of capitalism’s apologists.
HISTORY AS A WEAPON
History, by its very nature, is the culmination of distinct processes of social cognition. That has specific determinative aspects in the form of people’s quest for the realization of the idea of freedom. It is in that context that Dr. Woodson launched Negro History Week. He saw history as more than the record of people’s social development. Peoples’ history also revealed their vital cultural practices, enabling them to perpetuate themselves from one generation to the next. Those cultural practices are, at their core, the manifestations of an ideological/philosophical heritage—the indispensable hallmarks of any people’s socio-cultural development. It is the rich ideological/philosophical heritage Dr. Woodson desired for formerly enslaved people to recapture in order to move towards freedom.