In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson began what was then called Negro History Week. In recognition of President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, both of whom celebrated their birth dates during the second week of February.
Dr. Woodson realized the need for such commemoration and saw it as an opportunity for all America to give pause and reflect on the myriad contributions of black Americans. And, by participating in such a review, it would begin to chip away the false sense of superiority held by many whites as well as whittle away the false sense of inferiority maintained by many blacks. Segregation was rampant in the early twentieth century and with textbooks being exclusively written with whites in mind, there existed a dire need for the likes of a Dr. Carter G. Woodson to bring front and center the contributions of blacks.
Following are a few historical occurrences that are often left out of the distant and not too distant annals of history.
Mary McLeod Bethune
Born in 1875, near Mayesville, S.C., she would go on to receive a "head-heart-hand" education that focused on academic, religious, and vocational training at Scotia Seminary in Concord, N.C. McLeod had her heart set on serving in Africa as a missionary but was denied because Presbyterian policy did not permit African Americans to serve in Africa.
Signs of Mary McLeod Bethune's character became evident when she applied her considerable educational training to open the Daytona Educational and Industrial Institute. Despite Ms. Bethune's humble beginnings, it did not prevent her from later merging with Cookman Institute to become Bethune-Cookman Institute. Her driven personality resulted in her founding the National Council of Negro Women and influencing President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal government. She would also assist A. Phillip Randolph's March on Washington movement in 1941.
Mary McLeod Bethune's legacy continues to encourage self-actualization.
A 1925 study commissioned by the Army War College claimed to have found scientific proof that Negroes were biologically unable to operate aircraft due to limited cranial (skull) capacity. Thanks to the efforts of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the black press that placed pressure on elected officials, Congress passed Public Law 18, which called for the establishment of training programs for Negroes (support services only) at several black colleges of which Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Ala., was one. An all black unit called the 99th Fighter Squadron came into existence and paved the way for many more who dared to traverse the trail they blazed.
These African American pilots wanted more out of their military experience so they took a chance on fulfilling their dreams of becoming aviators. They dared to stare racism in its ugly face and consequently changed the way the military viewed black pilots.
A recently released movie, "Red Tails," is an attempt to depict the heroics of these audacious pilots.
Bob Moses, a 25-year old Harvard Ph.D. candidate was so inspired by the student sit-ins of the 1960s that he quit his teaching job in New York to join the Civil Rights Movement. He became the lead organizer of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and opened an office in Mississippi where he registered black voters. Bob Moses helped found the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), which served as an umbrella organization bringing together all Mississippi civil rights organizations. In 1964, COFO launched a massive voter registration and education drive. This onslaught of students that left the comforts and safety of their northern homes to come south came to be known as Freedom Summer. Three students would be killed for daring to register blacks in Mississippi that summer.
Bob Moses sought more than a Harvard Ph.D. and the profits it would bring. He sought his purpose for living and found it through aiding others.
In 1976, the Bicentennial of the United States, Negro History Week would be expanded to include the entire month of February. Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, an organization that continues to operate today, heightening the awareness of a long line of African Americans willing to shed blood, sweat, and tears to make the United States Constitution live up to what it professes to be about.
To your journey!
• Ahmad Daniels, M.Ed., is a transformation facilitator, life coach and founder of Creative Interchange in Phoenix. He can be reached at email@example.com.