Black History: Past, Present and Future

by William P. Muhammad

This month, as we are reminded of the contributions Blacks have made toward the building and maintenance of the American civilization, it is important to note that the observance of Black History Month is more than just being made aware of leaders, inventors and other prolific personalities from the past. Knowing what was in order to know what is, and to eventually discover what will be, is perhaps one of the most profound courses of study one can engage in today. With the reward of research being a greater awareness of the knowledge of self, a people firmly rooted in their history are not only empowered to rise, but they are also positioned to bring forth new ideas and higher levels of human expression.

Black History Month, originally known as Negro History Week through the works of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, was launched in 1926 for the purpose of stressing Black history in a world where Eurocentric discourse systematically ignored the humanity of Black people. According to Dr. Woodson’s subsequent writings, the study of Black history was “to bring before the world the whole truth that the truth may make men free.”

By recognizing the history of humanity’s oldest people, knowledge of the Original man challenges the twin ills of so-called Black inferiority and White supremacy. Thus removing the psychological barriers to progress, advancement and self-actualization, human beings will be free to enjoy the fruits of freedom, justice and equality as a newer understanding of history is made manifest.

Although it may have escaped the collective memory of some that the historical significance of Black people was for generations excluded from most history books, correcting these omissions has become a mission for those working to undo the whitewash that rendered an entire people invisible. From the landmass pejoratively labeled “the dark continent,” as if Africa was a place of no light, the myth and mystique surrounding its land and people could only be related to the ignorance and unwillingness of its so-called discoverers to see beyond their imperial designs.

From the Rift Valley of East Africa, where modern humans reportedly originated, to the high civilization of the Giza Plateau, it is impossible to discount the historical impact of the Original man. From the libraries of Timbuktu to the repositories of wisdom and knowledge at the headwaters of the Nile, the Black man was an integral component of the ancient world and a teacher of civilization.

Be that as it may, many African societies were subsequently destroyed through greed and inordinate self-interests culminating in war, colonialism and the largest forced deportation of a people the world has ever witnessed. The transshipment of millions of Africans to the Western Hemisphere traumatized an entire people to such an extent that its effects are still felt to this day, and like the 400 year bondage suffered by the Children of Israel under Pharaoh, the promise of redemption is found in our willingness to wake to the knowledge of the time and to reestablish our priorities as a people.

The historical afflictions of Black people, particularly in America, is a story that when properly told reveals the tragedy of being robbed not only physically, but also mentally and spiritually. An issue not adequately explained in the history books, the psychological impact of chattel enslavement wrecked immeasurable harm upon the lives of both the enslaved and their descendants. Subsequently handicapping Black people’s ability to reap the full benefits of citizenship, once granted with the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1866, it would take another 100 years of struggle before our people were adequately equipped with the basic rights and privileges the rest of the country took for granted.

From Jim Crow segregation and the advent of the Civil Rights movement, to Black consciousness and the election of America’s first Black president, the saga of the Black man and woman of America continues. In order to claim our proper and rightful place as a people, and to fulfill the requirements of our destiny, we must not forget the legacy of our struggle.

If “history is most qualified to reward our research” and understanding the law of cause and effect determines future dispositions, then taking charge of our current story helps to write the next chapter of our history. As sons and daughters of the African Diaspora, we must continue the struggle of defining our reality, not only within the context of a changing world, but also in recognizing Black history as a rich subject for ongoing consideration and study.