Dr. Elwood Watson is Professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. His areas of specialty are in 20th Century Post World War II U.S. History, African American History, African American Studies, Gender Studies, Popular Culture, and ethnographic studies. He is one of the editors of Mentoring Faculty of Color: Essays on Professional Development and Advancement in Colleges and Universities. In addition, he is the recipient of the Faculty Teaching Award and Faculty Distinguished Research Award from the College of Arts & Science. See the review of his latest book, Keepin’ It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America.
James Baldwin, the 20th century black intellectual, renaissance author and cultural critic, once observed: “History is the present. We carry our history with us. To think otherwise is criminal.”
In addition to recognizing African American trailblazers of centuries past during Black History Month, it’s also instructive to consider more recent history. That’s why a compelling new book by historian Elwood David Watson, Ph.D. is recommended reading:
Keepin’ It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America (University of Chicago Press).
BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Editor’s Note: February commemorates and celebrates American history and culture. Here are two aspects of this month in the words of one of the best speakers and communication coaches in the country, Vincent Ivan Phipps. The first of his essays looks at the history of Black History Month. The second looks at Valentine’s Day with advice we can all use to our own benefit and that of our loved ones.
Why is Black History Month in February?
Thank the ASNLH, Association for the Study of Negro Life and History! In 1916 an American historian, Carter G. Woodson, began editing this organization’s primary scholarly publication called the Journal of Negro History. In 1924, as a member of the historically Black fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, Woodson used the platform of his fraternity to introduce Negro History and Literature Week. In 1926, Woodson and the ASNLH inaugurated Negro history week in February 1926 which eventually parlayed into National Negro Month or to what it is called today, Black History Month.
When I started teaching civil rights in graduate school, I developed a timeline of Black History in the United States. I included positive ones as well as tragedies, and tried to include more than African-American connected events, to represent a fuller picture of American history than is usually represented. I also included some world events to provide context and some removal from a “calculus of suffering” so often indulged in by one group comparing its history with another. The timeline makes no promises of completeness, and is a work in progress. It is generally referenced, and is fairly reliable. This timeline proved to be popular with students, who mostly had been raised and educated on the myth of progress, American Dream, and City on a Hill themes. They were surprised by the uneven progression of social equity in American history, with its frequent “one step forward, two steps back” meme. I’ve chosen some examples from just one year in this timeline for Black History Month.
Although traditionally the month of February has celebrated famous African-Americans throughout history, maybe it’s time to augment how that history is told with our personal history stories, ones that define and shape who we are today.
The neighborhood I grew up in conjures up images of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” Hal Rauch’s “Our Gang” with scenes of Mayberry from the “Andy Griffin Show” added to the mix. The folks in my neighborhood were caring, creative and resourceful because we had to be. Our survival depended on it.
In the mid-1990s, at the dawn of the Information Age, when many were concerned that the lack of awareness and participation in this new world by communities of color would create a Digital Divide, Ken Granderson had an idea. He was one of a handful of black entrepreneurs in the industry, and was committed to helping make this new reality more accessible to communities of color by creating computer technologies that featured people of color, created by people of color.
So for Black History Month 1997, following previous Black History Month technology projects that digitized the Boston Public Library’s book chronicling 350 years of Black Boston History, and launched web sites for Boston’s predominantly black communities, in 1997, Ken collaborated with his friend and fellow black technology entrepreneur Dale Dowdie, and starting with a small public domain listing of about 3 thousand entries, launched BlackFacts.com as the Internet’s first data-driven Black History web site, which was powered by technology built by black engineers, and populated by teachers and history buffs throughout the US and several other countries.
Earlier this month, President Trump convened a press conference where he surrounded himself with an assorted group of Black celebrities, Black athletes, a few Black conservative policy makers and other relatively well known Black individuals who lean politically right. This, in and of itself, was nothing out of the ordinary. After all, February is Black History Month. Moreover, one would fully expect Donald Trump, (like his more recent predecessors), to demonstrate some degree of acknowledgment to the significant accomplishments of Black Americans. OK, so far, so good.
Mike Green, co-founder of ScaleUp Partners, is passionate about competitiveness and moving a 1% needle that has never been moved. All black-owned businesses today produce less than 1% of GDP and virtually no job growth. That 1% for the African-American sector has never been breached in the history of this nation. Combined with Hispanic businesses, the number is less than 4%. By mid-century that will mean 42% of the US population is producing 4% of its business productivity. That equation undermines America’s global competitiveness.
For more information, go to ScaleUp Partners.
7 critical issues for the USA to thrive
As the USA observes National African American History Month in February, it’s an opportune time to examine several critically important issues confronting the black community. That’s because for America to truly thrive as “one nation undivided” then all citizens must be afforded equal opportunities to rise as high as their God-given talents and abilities allow — without discriminatory barriers.
This is the only way we can effectuate “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for all, as articulated in the Declaration of Independence. But, first, some background:
The debate over Black History Month is not new, but it intensified when this year’s Oscar nominees were all Caucasian. For the second year in a row, the Oscars earned the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. The Los Angeles Times noted that, “It’s another embarrassing Hollywood sequel … the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated an all-white group of acting nominees…The news again provoked an outcry and raised fresh questions over a familiar issue: whether an industry that prides itself on its progressiveness remains stubbornly stuck in the past.”