Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

Why Black History is So Important, Part 2

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Who are we? Why are we here? Where have we been? Where are we going? Why are many of us still confused about who we are and what we have contributed to America and world civilization?

Declaring our true history often elicits ignorance and defensiveness from numerous blacks and whites because we have been taught to believe that our collective contributions to world history as African people have been minuscule and devalued if not entirely nonexistent.

It is tragic that we do not know our true history dating back to the Empires of Egypt, Ethiopia, and other African nations and extending throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas. African people have also contributed substantially to Greece, Rome, India, China and other world empires and civilizations.

Excavation of that history requires painstaking and responsible research, meticulous scholarship, and intellectual perseverance. Often the discovery and celebration of such history have been met with disdain, rebuke and outright rejection.

In conversation with a gentleman some years ago, I was elated to share information about the blackness of William Shakespeare, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Franz Joseph Haydn, Alexander Dumas, Napoleon Bonaparte and other great persons of African and Moorish descent who made their impressions on music, literature and other disciplines in Europe and the world over but he bristled in protest at my remarks. I even shared references for my claims and still he could not bring himself to believe the truth of my “fact infested” assertions. (See Joel A. Rogers, Sex and Race Volumes 1-3, and Dr. Edward L. Jones, The Black Diaspora: Colonization of Colored People, Edward Lynne Jones and Associates, Seattle Washington, 1989)

This man’s response to these little-known facts of black history resulted from many years of indoctrination and cultural conditioning which have led people to believe that we have made no contributions to history essentially because we lived as slaves for over three hundred fifty years in America. Our existence in slavery obviates the fact that our history began thousands of years before our time in America and is one small chapter in a vast and rich chronology of a long and voluminous history.

And when we excavate the truths of American slavery, we would discover that even slaves who did most of the work on plantations harvesting a cash crop called King Cotton, developed ingenious labor-saving devices to make work easier and more efficient. Numerous inventions, such as the cotton gin were patented by their masters and owners and slaves never received credit or royalties for those inventions.

America could not have become a leading world power without the labor and ingenuity of black slaves, and that story should be more prominently disclosed in the annals of American and world history.

Even the story of slavery itself has not been told from the viewpoint of the genius, strengths, resiliency and ingenuity of African slaves. It is, therefore, partial history and not complete history; a history that has been slanted toward the prejudices and peccadilloes of those writing that history. Thus, we tend to view slavery only from its degradations as opposed to how a captive and oppressed people triumphed over the inherent dehumanization and devaluation of racial oppression by developing what Monroe Fordham called “adaptive and expressive” needs and mechanisms.

Those survival implements empowered blacks to think and exist alternatively by embracing the larger culture but also by creating their own subcultures. The unique African-American cultures have embraced conventional Anglo ways of knowing and being but have created alternative African based ways of knowing, being and “presencing” which have helped them adopt to the world around them while adapting and fashioning a unique world within them. (See Carlyle Fielding Stewart, III, Soul Survivors An African-American Spirituality, Westminster John Knox Press, 1997)

The economic and material prosperity of America whose benefits and beneficiaries still exist today were created in large measure by African-Americans. America would not have achieved such global dominance without the strenuous labor and ingenuity of black slaves and freedmen and women whose full contributions have yet to be told.

The fact is when responsible historical research is conducted we can learn the astonishing truths of this new reality whose history also includes the inventions and discoveries of black men and women, past and present who are still making great contributions to America evidenced from the invention of techniques for laser eye surgery by Dr. Patricia Bath to the Chevrolet Volt developed by Jelani Aliyu. (Black Inventors Crafting Over 200 Years of Success Keith C. Holmes, Global Black Inventors Research Project, 2008)

If minds are open to responsibly sharing and researching history, we would be astonished at latent truths which give way to new epiphanies, revelations, and discoveries of who we are and our gifts to America and the world.

Black history remains one of the most important yet undervalued enterprises of human knowledge. We must shed the shame and defensiveness that comes with sharing the truth of that history. It is, therefore, important to learn and know that history so that we better understand who we are, why we are, where we have been and where we are going as a community of persons who have made enormous contributions to world civilization since the beginning of time.

As we have had the power to beautifully shape the past, our history reminds us that we also have the power to wonderfully and creatively shape the future not only for our children and their children and their children but for all children who will one day become rightful citizens of the world by writing, telling and celebrating their own history for ages to come.

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