Dr. Woodson’s Dream: The End of Black History “Celebrations”

Posted on February 21, 2012 by

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By Min. Mxolisi Ozo-Sowande

As we move once again toward the end of the shortest month of the euro-centric calendar, endeavoring to do justice to the longest, most-creative history – African History, I’m left to wonder if Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s “dream” for this observance will ever be realized; especially his dream for the end of annual Black History “Celebrations.”

An essay by Daryl Michael Scott, Professor of History at Howard University, and Vice President of Program for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALAH), reflects the following:

Dr. Daryl Michael Scott

“Well before his death in 1950, Woodson believed that the (annual) celebrations—not the study or celebration of black history–would eventually come to an end.  In fact, Woodson never viewed black history as a one-week affair.  He pressed for schools to use Negro History Week to demonstrate what students learned all year.  In the same vein, he established a black studies extension program to reach adults throughout the year.  It was in this sense that blacks would learn of their past on a daily basis that he looked forward to the time when an annual celebration would no longer be necessary. . . . Woodson believed that black history was too important to America and the world to be crammed into a limited time frame.  He spoke of a shift from Negro History Week to Negro History Year.”  

When Dr. Woodson and his colleagues launched “Negro History Week” in 1926, it was his perception that only one-in-ten-thousand (1/10000) “Negroes” had any clue regarding the magnificence embodied in the history made by the sons and daughters of Africa, not only in the USA, but throughout the world. In other words, the devastation of the Middle Passage and chattel slavery, Jim Crow and KKK, and the assorted social and legal brutalities of “2nd class citizenship” had us (Africans in America, and other places too) well on the way to becoming merely a population and not a People.

I’m left to wonder if 1- in-10,000 Black folks in America – (Africans all over the world) — share Dr. Woodson’s conviction regarding the importance of knowing and embracing what he called “the beautiful history” and the cultural-spiritual-philosophical essence that gave rise to it — from Nubia to Kemet to Great Zimbabwe and Timbuktu, and empowered African resistance, perseverance and excellence in the midst of inhumanity and death in the european’s so-called “new world” – from Brazil to Jamestown to Richmond and New Orleans, and all points north, south, east and west. I wonder!

That Beautiful History

Dr. Woodson had no doubt that the truths embodied in our history, and the cultural-spiritual-philosophical essence from which they sprang, would serve as a psychological-historical shield and inspiration for Blacks against the incessant demeaning and devaluing of Black intelligence and moral worth that was (is) common in US society. Scott’s essay reflects that Dr. Woodson once told an audience of Hampton Institute students, “We are going back to that beautiful history and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements.”

The “Beautiful History”

I wonder if 1-in-10000 understand and respect that the “beautiful history” of Dr. Woodson’s vision and dream went beyond our made-in-America tribulations. This was reflected in a letter he wrote in 1927, expressing his determination to establish a Home Study Department that would facilitate, among other things, the study of African Philosophy, African Anthropology, African Art, and other “aspects of African civilization which were neglected” in the schools of this nation. Dr. Woodson intended an extensive, comprehensive study of African history, rather than focusing on a few men or women of our USA experience. He believed we should focus on “the countless black men and women who had contributed to the advance of human civilization” and the cultural-spiritual-philosophical dynamics that empowered their excellence.

My recent question to ASALAH regarding the status of such a program received this response from Dr. Scott: Such a program was more than Dr. Woodson and the Association could handle in his lifetime, and it continues to be beyond the Association’s capabilities and resources, including the recruitment of scholars to participate and the management of a fee structure for such a program. Additionally, the comprehensive study Dr. Woodson intended is betrayed by the failure of the Association to even mention Africa in fewer than 10 of their 86 annual themes over the years since 1926.

Can We Do What Must Be Done?

Can we move and grow from where we are – from limited annual “celebrations”? Can we move and grow to the ultimate goal of becoming a World African Community living purposefully and creatively, perpetuating the greatest good for ourselves and the whole human family — inspired, empowered and nurtured each day by the cultural-spiritual-philosophical essence that impelled our ancient Ancestors to become the founding mothers and fathers of human civilization, and enabled countless Black men and women over the ages to contribute to the advancement of that civilization?

Are there more than 1-in-10000 of us ready to do all we can (Kuumba) to do what we must to rekindle within ourselves that essence for excellence and allow it to be the fire and fuel that compels each of us — and our children — to find and bring forth contributions of excellence to make life more beautiful and beneficial than ever it could be without them?  I wonder!

In a recent doctoral thesis entitled “A Critical Social Theory of African American Potentiality,” Dr. Paige Parker, Ph.D., asserts that there is an absence of “formal mechanisms” as well as a diminishing number of places where the lessons and legacies of African & African American strengths in overcoming odds are effectively communicated; where “historical amnesia” and cultural unconsciousness can be addressed and eradicated; and where the corrosive and passivity-inducing role of the media on the bodies, minds and spirits of our people (all people) is effectively addressed and overthrown.

Dr. Parker indicated that the Black church has been the place where this healing and enlightenment could happen, but that it is, in too many cases, being overrun and eroded with self-centered gospels of individual achievement and wealth, making it an “inadequate vessel” for the “preservation of the truest definitions and manifestations of the fullest humanity of African people.”

(Additionally, from this writer’s perspective, the Black church is plagued with its embrace of euro-centric theology and deceptions that either demonize or gerrymander and co-opts our Ancestors’ achievements, particularly the genius of ancient Kemet [Egypt], thereby furthering the “historical amnesia” and cultural unconsciousness through its teachings and preachments.)

Each One Who Can Must Reach One in Need

Dr. Parker holds that conscious middle class and affluent African Americans — who are not overwhelmed by the burdens that daily haunt the lives of less fortunate Blacks — have crucial roles to play in rescuing these institutions from that erosion or creating new ones through which the vision of our tradition can be effectively articulated.

We must teach the children!

From my perspective, the principles, precepts and practices of the Kwanzaa/Nguzo Saba tradition can serve as a “formal mechanism” through which the lessons and legacies of African & African American strengths can be communicated. From the straw mat (Mkeka) that symbolizes the ancient and abiding faith of the African worldview in the reality of GOD and the sacredness of every life as the foundation of all existence, to the candleholder (Kinara) which represents the ancestral giants who grew to become role models of the excellence which that foundation inspires, to the seven candles (Mishumaa Saba) that represent the major African principles for personal character development and interpersonal relations:

Unity (Umoja)  – growing from the African perception that each of us are sacred sons and daughters of the Creator’s sacred essence who are deserving of the love, compassion and respect that such a familial reality commands, regardless of denominational or tribal distinctions. Let’s do all we can to re-establish and maintain that unity!

Self-determination (Kujichagulia) – growing from the understanding that the Creator who sees, hears and knows all things has given us eyes & ears & minds by which to emulate the divine capacity to evaluate, analyze and decide (and do) that which creates and perpetuates our greatest good.

Collective work & responsibility (Ujima) – knowing and showing beyond lip service and rhetoric that we are our sisters and brothers keepers, and extending ourselves to help one another enjoy the greatest good that Creation has to offer.

Cooperative economics (Ujamaa) – the unselfish, purposeful, well-planned utilization of resources entrusted unto us (including money) to provide for the greatest good of the greatest number.

Purpose (Nia) – growing from the understanding of the unparalleled roles that  our African & African American ancestors played in moving humanity from barbarism to civilization, from superstition to science, and being inspired to do likewise in this mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, so-called modern, new world order.

Creativity (Kuumba) – understanding that the power that GOD used/uses (that GOD is) to put the sun in the sky is also in you and I, by which to do all we can in every way we can to make family, community, nation, world more beautiful and beneficial than ever they could be without our contributions of excellence! Let’s do all we can!

Faith (Imani) – trusting that the way of GOD — the way of truth, justice and righteousness (Maat) & these Nguzo Saba principles — is the way that will provide for our greatest good — come what may!

We Must Teach Our Children!

The emphatic expression of our responsibility to teach the children (Muhindi/Vibunzi) embodied in the Kwanzaa/Nguzo Saba tradition holds serious truths and power for serious, dedicated people. It is in harmony with the nearly universal perspective of the African worldview that children are not complete beings until they have been taught (by word and deed) the cultural-spiritual-philosophical principles of the family-community-nation.

With its remaining symbols and rituals, the Kwanzaa/Nguzo Saba tradition provides us with significant insights regarding the philosophical-spiritual-cultural fires that burned in the hearts and souls of the Ancestral Giants and Awesome Elders who have gone before us. And it gives us a significant blueprint for the (re)-igniting of those fires in the hearts and souls of sisters and brothers — young and old – in our families and communities all over the world!

(For more on this, let me recommend my book, “Kwanzaa & the Nguzo Saba: Something Sacred for & from the Souls of Black Folks” @ www.harambeeconnection.org – in the webshop.)

In closing her thesis, Dr. Parker cites the words of noted African scholar-writer, Ayi Kwei Armah: “We must open our minds to a future that goes far beyond a single lifetime, or even the lifetimes of single tribes and nations. The vision is terrifying in its scope. But with greater understanding, the terror of our own impotence dissolves in the knowledge that if we work well, we will be part of the preparation for generations which will inherit the kind of strength that can bring a people back together.”

To those words, let’s add these words from ASAR Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers, the late founding president of

ASAR Dr. Jacob Carruthers

The Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations (ASCAC):

“The rebuilding of our families, the rescue of our ancestors, the repair of our broken lives are demands that must be met by each of us. This is not just merely a job for the historians or the artists, but for all of us whatever our vocation or avocation may be.”

“The education of any people should begin with the people themselves….”

 Dr. Carter G. Woodson, The Miseducation of the Negro (1933)

Ankh, Udja, Seneb!!!

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