Black Studies, USA: “We need to go back on the offensive.”

Posted on May 26, 2013 by


Talking About Black Studies with Dr. Neal Holmes

By Bro. Mxolisi T. Sowell / Ozo-Sowande

On the evening of May 14, 2013, HC Live & Direct! had the honor of hosting Dr. Neal Holmes – live and direct, in our Daybreak Café broadcast studio, in Amelia, VA 23002 – to share with us his views, perspectives and experiences relative to the diminishing presence of Black Studies departments and programs on college campuses in the U.S. But being the “out of the box” person he is, Brother Holmes took the discussion to some areas that were totally unexpected.

Dr. Neal Holmes, Ph.D.

Dr. Neal Holmes, Ph.D.

Dr. Holmes’ is currently a political science professor at Virginia State University, Ettrick, VA. His academic experiences include; the teaching of political science and African-American history at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania and serving there as interim dean for the School of Arts and Sciences; directing the Afro-American Studies Program at the University of Akron; and directing the Call Me MISTER program at Longwood University, Farmville, VA.

Additionally, his experiences include: serving on the advisory board of the National African-American Leadership Conference from 1998-2001; serving on the Nationwide Peace Education Executive Committee of the American Friends Service from 1996-2002; past president of the Liberian Studies Association; member of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists and the National Council of Black Studies. In 1999 he was recognized as Educator of the Year by the Beta Gamma (Cheyney) chapter of Omega Psi Phi fraternity. He earned his Ph.D. and Master of City Planning (M.C.P.) degrees from the University of Cincinnati and a B.S. from Virginia Commonwealth University.

But a very serious part of the foundation for those academic, professional and personal accomplishments, in addition to the influences of family and community, is that Neal Holmes is a graduate of the so-called second-class, segregated public school systems of the U.S., in the state of Virginia, in particular.

“In those schools we had relevant teachers,” Holmes recalled, teachers who had information and courage by which to confront the incorrect information of textbooks, such as the erroneous claim that ancient Egypt was a Caucasian nation, not a Black/African nation – among other things. “In those schools we had Black studies themes every year, all year. February was a culmination when we shared the discoveries of our research,” he added.

(These were the Rosenwald schools, spear-headed by Julius Rosenwald, a U.S. clothier, manufacturer, business executive, and philanthropist, and part-owner and leader of Sears, Roebuck and Company, who established the Rosenwald Fund to improve the education of southern blacks by building schools, mostly in rural areas. Rosenwald made this move after meeting with Booker T. Washington in 1911. Under a system requiring matching public funds and interracial community cooperation for maintenance and operation of schools, more than 5,300 were built in the South by the time of Rosenwald’s death in 1932. Black communities essentially taxed themselves twice to raise money to support new schools, often donating land and labor to get them built.)

(Using state-of-the-art architectural plans designed by professors at Tuskegee Institute, the Fund spent more than four million dollars to build those schools, 217 teachers’ homes, and 163 shop buildings in 883 counties in 15 states, from Maryland to Texas, with Black communities raising more than $4.7 million to aid in construction. By 1932, the facilities could accommodate one-third of all African-American children in Southern schools. Research has found that these efforts accounted for a sizable portion of the educational gains of rural Southern blacks, including significant effects on school attendance, literacy, years of schooling, and cognitive test scores, with the highest gains occurring in the most disadvantaged counties.) (See Wikipedia: “Black School” & “Rosenwald Schools”)   

With increasing urbanization, Rosenwald schools in many rural areas were abandoned. Additionally, Holmes holds that the victories of our Civil Rights struggles served to facilitate and hasten the dismantling of those schools, with many of the “relevant teachers” losing their jobs and the “Black studies cultural consciousness” that came from those rural schools being seriously diminished.

The late Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), as he addressed a Black Studies rally "back in the day."

The late Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), as he addressed a Black Studies rally “back in the day.”

The efforts of the 1960’s and 1970’s for Black Studies programs and departments on the urban campuses of the nation were, in part, a response to this “attack”, in Brother Holmes’ view, aiming to facilitate the birth or revival of that rural Black studies consciousness in the hearts and minds of Black students enrolled in those schools. Additionally, Holmes views those efforts as the “ideological part” of the Black Power Movement of those times, seeking to bring enlightenment regarding a broad spectrum of historical, cultural and contemporary realities affecting Black life, enlightenment that would produce a broader, deeper, empowering embrace of Black Power values and aspirations among African-Americans.

While those campus efforts achieved significant successes, Dr. Holmes concludes there was a serious shortcoming in that, “We neglected taking those experiences to independent places within our own communities.” He views churches, social clubs, sororities and fraternities as “testaments to our ability to build institutions,” places where more energy could have/should have been focused to establish independent African schools, Saturday schools, and Black Studies groups, to bring the much needed enlightenment.

“Why wait until college?” Holmes asks, where so few of us ever go, where so many who do arrive have been impacted by and have

We need 'em in every African community.

We need ’em in every African community.

internalized the “benign neglect” and disdain that characterizes American society’s and academia’s regard for Black Studies. The festering of that negative dynamic is now fueling the “attack” which finds an increasing number of colleges dismissing Black Studies programs, or diluting them under the banner of “diversity” and “multi-cultural” studies.

The enlightenment is still needed, perhaps increasingly more, as time rolls on and the neglect and disdain proliferates. The professor says, “We need to go back on the offensive,” to establish more of the independent programs and institutions that will inspire us to appreciate and embrace our “beautiful history,” as Dr. Carter G. Woodson referenced it, and its many heroes and she-roes, leading to greater numbers of our people experiencing the revolutionary transformations of self-knowledge, character and elevated expectations, which we know Black Studies cultural consciousness brings to life.

In addition to bringing forth our beautiful history and ancestors, effective Black Studies bring light to the whys and wherefores of the racist ugliness and injustices that systematically suppress, distress (and corrupt) the aspirations, morality and productive potentials of African Americans, and who benefits or profits, as well as give life, nurture and refinement to visions and methods by which to defeat those genocidal dynamics.

In Dr. Holmes’ view, Black Studies existed (started) during the period of chattel enslavement, via the expressions of hope and the sharing of African values and experiences on the part of elders and other pillars of strength under those inhumane circumstances. And the “attack” — which started with the savage disruptions of our civilizations — continued, as the enslavers used every inhumanity imaginable to suppress that flow of culture and consciousness – violence, torture, intimidations, separations, even death.

Black studiesThis negative dynamic has been an inherent aspect of American society and institutions from their very beginning, and the current attacks (and apathy) on Black Studies may reflect and support the galvanization of opinion among the powers-that-be in this system that now is an opportune time for delivering a crushing blow to Black Studies/Black Power once and for all.

In this writer’s view, these attacks come not only through actions taken on college campuses, but more broadly through the constant presentation of overt and subliminal anti-African “benign neglect” and disdain via every avenue of communication and indoctrination in this society, and our surrender as “volunteer victims” who spend extraordinary time and resources consuming the stuff, being indoctrinated and entertained, literally, to our cultural-historical-spiritual-visionary death.

As Dr. Holmes has offered, to revive and give new life to Black Studies Cultural Consciousness in every African heart, home and community across this nation, and throughout the African world, “We need to go back on the offensive.”

What will YOU do?