A Black history primer on African Americans’ fight for equality – 5 essential reads

A Black history primer on African Americans’ fight for equality – 5 essential reads

President Barack Obama presents NBA champion and human rights advocate Bill Russell the Medal of Freedom on Feb. 15, 2011. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Howard Manly, The Conversation

As the father of Black history, Carter G. Woodson had a simple goal – to legitimize the study of African American history and culture.

To that end, in 1912, shortly after becoming the second African American after W.E.B. Du Bois to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard, Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915.

More than 100 years later, Woodson’s goal and his work detailing the struggle of Black Americans to obtain full citizenship after centuries of systemic racism is still relevant today.

As dozens of GOP-controlled state legislatures across the U.S. have either considered or enacted laws restricting how race is taught in public schools, The Conversation U.S. has published numerous stories over the years exploring the rich terrain of Black history – and the never-ending quest to form what the Founding Fathers called a more perfect union.

1. From the Underground Railroad to Civil War battlefields

Armed with a deep faith, Harriet Tubman is most famous for her successes along the Underground Railroad, the interracial network of abolitionists who enabled Black people to escape from slavery along secret routes in the South to freedom in the North and Canada.

A group of black men and women are posing for a portrait.
Harriet Tubman, far left, poses with her family, friends and neighbors near her barn in Auburn, N.Y., in the mid-to-late 1880s. Bettmann/Getty Images

But Tubman’s activities as a Civil War spy are less well known.

As historian and Tubman biographer Kate Clifford Larson wrote, Tubman’s devotion to America’s promise of freedom endured, despite suffering decades of enslavement and second-class citizenship.

“I had reasoned this out in my mind,” Tubman once said. “There was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death. If I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive.”

2. Juneteenth and the myths of emancipation

As a scholar of race and colonialism, Kris Manjapra wrote that Emancipation Days – Juneteenth in Texas – are not what many people think.

“Emancipations did not remove all the shackles that prevented Black people from obtaining full citizenship rights,” Manjapra noted. “Nor did emancipations prevent states from enacting their own laws that prohibited Black people from voting or living in white neighborhoods.”

Between the 1780s and 1930s, over 80 emancipations from slavery occurred, from Pennsylvania in 1780 to Sierra Leone in 1936.

With a blue sky in the background, a Black woman stands over a crowd of people, raising her fist in the air.
A Black woman raises her fist in the air during a Juneteenth reenactment celebration in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 2021. Mark Felix /AFP/Getty Images

In fact, there were 20 separate emancipations in the United States alone from 1780 to 1865.

3. An image of a lynching found in a family photo album

As director of the Lynching in Texas project, historian Jeffrey L. Littlejohn provided the very kind of analysis that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Republican legislators in Texas want to ban from public schools.

Dozens of men wearing hats have their heads down as they look at the site where three black men were burned at the stake.
Scene of the burnings of Johnny Cornish, Mose Jones and Snap Curry in Kirvin, Texas, on May 6, 1922. Jeff Littlejohn

Among the many documents and relics Littlejohn has received, one package stood out. Inside was a family album of photographs filled with the usual images of memories – a vacation, a wedding anniversary dinner – but also, one of the lynching of a Black man.

During the Jim Crow era, lynchings occurred regularly in Texas – with 16 in 1922 alone.

But in 2021, the GOP-controlled state Legislature in Texas enacted a law prohibiting K-12 educators from teaching that “slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from … the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality.”

In other words, as Littlejohn wrote, “this interpretation holds that slavery, racism and racism’s deadly manifestation, lynching, did not serve as systemic forces that shaped Texas history but were instead aberrations.”

The photo album serves as a direct challenge to that interpretation.

4. Black soldiers fight racism and Nazis during World War II

In his book “Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad,” historian Matthew Delmont explored the idea of Black patriotism and how many Black soldiers saw their service as a way to demonstrate the capabilities of their race.

Prompted by the Pittsburgh Courier, an influential Black newspaper during the 1940s, Delmont wrote that Black Americans rallied behind the Double V campaign during the war – victory over fascism abroad and victory over racism at home.

Black soldiers are seen filling up gasoline tanks for dozens of trucks used to transport military supplies.
In this October 1944 photograph, Black soldiers are filling up gasoline tanks for the Red Ball Express. AFP via Getty Images

During the war, the Red Ball Express, the Allied forces’ transportation unit that delivered supplies to the front lines, was one example of such exceptional performance.

From August through November 1944, the mostly Black force moved more than 400,000 tons of ammunition, gasoline, medical supplies and rations to battlefronts in France, Belgium and Germany.

5. An NBA champion’s cerebral fight for equal rights

In his biography of Bill Russell, “King of the Court,” Aram Goudsouzian wrote that the NBA champion sought to find worth in basketball amid the racial tumult of the civil rights movement.

He emerged from that crucible by crafting a persona that one teammate called “a kingly arrogance.”

Russell, who died July, 31, 2022, was the NBA’s first Black superstar, its first Black champion and its first Black coach.

As a civil rights activist, Russell questioned the nonviolence philosophy of Martin Luther King Jr. and defended the militant ideas of Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam. He refused to accept segregated accommodations in the Deep South and recalled instances of police brutality during his childhood in Oakland, California.
“It’s a thing you want to scream,” Russell wrote. “I MUST HAVE MY MANHOOD.”

Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives.The Conversation

Howard Manly, Race + Equity Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Let’s not gloss over the faith of Black figures this Black History Month

Let’s not gloss over the faith of Black figures this Black History Month

Every Black History Month we see a million memes, quotes, and images of Black people who have played an important role in shaping the story and lives of black people in America. We have heard about Martin Luther King Jr., Harriett Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Rosa Parks more times than we can count. If we’ve grown up with good black history education which is rare in these yet to be United States of America, then we might know Booker T. Washington or Maya Angelou. We know there is an active attempt to publicly whitewash black history as though the systemic destruction, repression, and marginalization of our history wasn’t enough. As a result it becomes more important than ever to teach and tell Black History.

But in an attempt  to reclaim our history, let us not forget the key role faith played in the lives of so many of our black leaders. There is a reason why belief in God and practice of faith were so key in the lives of many (but not all) people we talk about during Black History Month. So let’s lift up the faith of our black heroines and heroes this month as we continue to live out our own faith. Below are just some notable examples of historical moments and key black leaders who were influenced by their faith.

 

Denmark Vesey

Denmark Vesey was an abolitionist and former slave who planned and organized an armed slave rebellion to free the slaves in Charleston, SC. Charleston was the largest slave trading port in the United States during the early 1800s. He was the slave of a ship captain who won the lottery and paid for his own freedom with his earnings, but was not able to pay for his family’s freedom. As a result he became intent on ending the institution of slavery itself. Vesey was a worshipper and small group teacher at the African Church which became Mother Emmanuel AME Church, and his faith informed his advocacy for abolition.

He was inspired by the Haitian revolution and planned to flee to Haiti with the freed slaves after the rebellion. He inspired other abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, David Walker, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. It is well noted that the abolition of slavery was a result of the work of Christian abolitionists.

The Christianity of Vesey and David Walker after him did not advocate for passive waiting to slavery to end. As he read Isaiah, Amos, and especially Exodus he were convinced that armed rebellion could be used by God to bring freedom to enslaved Africans. He began to preach a radical liberation theology from the Old Testament almost exclusively as he prepared for rebellion. Denmark Vesey resurfaced as a popular figure in recent years in the aftermath of the horrendous shooting at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in 2016.

 

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer was the founder and vice-chairperson of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which successfully unseated the all-white Mississippi delegation at the Democratic Party’s convention in 1968. This and other efforts earned her the title “First Lady of Civil Rights.”

In 1962, Fannie Lou became involved with the Civil Rights Movement when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee held a meeting in Ruleville, Mississippi. She and 17 others went to the county courthouse and tried to register to vote. Because they were African American, they were given an impossible registration test which they all failed.  Fannie Lou’s life became a living hell. She was threatened, shot at, cursed and abused by angry mobs of white men including being beat almost to death by the police and imprisoned in Mississippi in 1963 for registering to vote.

Fannie Lou Hamer often sang spirituals at rallies, protests, and even in jail. Her faith in God is what she felt carried her through those difficult experiences. She quoted the Bible to shame her oppressors, encourage her followers, and hold her ministerial colleagues in the SCLC and SNCC accountable. She was a devout member of William Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, and let her faith permeate everything she did.

 

Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander, JD is a civil rights lawyer and advocate, a legal scholar and the author of the New York Times best seller “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” The book helped to start a national debate about the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States and inspired racial-justice organizing and advocacy efforts nationwide.

Alexander performed extensive research on mass incarceration, racism in law and public policy, and racial justice to write her book published in 2010. She has lectured and taught widely on her work as a professor of law and religion at Stanford University, The Ohio State University, and Union Theological Seminary. The New Jim Crow became a foundational text for many of the reforms being advocate for by various organizations involved in the recent push for criminal justice reform and the movement for black lives.

Alexander was driven by her faith to advocate for justice system reforms, believing that God called her to it and seeing it as her reasonable service. Her faith drives her advocacy for justice for the marginalized, care and compassion for all people, and teaching. She feels as though her work in law and faith are inextricably linked, and that people of faith are poised to serve one of the most important roles in changing the system. She is currently a visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York exploring the spiritual and ethical dimensions of the fight against mass incarceration.

 

 

https://www.nps.gov/people/denmark-vesey.htm

https://www.pbs.org/thisfarbyfaith/people/denmark_vesey.html?pepperjam=&publisherId=120349&clickId=3860507074&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_campaign=affiliate

https://urbanfaith.com/2021/10/faith-endurance-of-civil-rights-activist-fannie-lou-hamer-revealed-in-new-biography.html/

https://divinity.yale.edu/news/michelle-alexander-mass-incarceration-believing-possibility-redemption-and-forgiveness

https://www.nytimes.com/by/michelle-alexander

A Salute to Black Civil Rights Leaders, Richard L. Green, Chicago: Empak Enterprises,1987, p. 11

UrbanFaith x Faitth Brooks: Remember Me Now

UrbanFaith x Faitth Brooks: Remember Me Now

Faitth Brooks believes that Black women’s lives, voices, and journeys need to matter now. Trevor Noah said in his final monologue as a host of The Daily Show that his final thought as host of one of the most recognizable shows in the country is to listen to black women. We need to remember black women now more than ever.

In 2020 at the height of the pandemic there was a national push to support the movement for black lives in the United States of America. After years of challenges, rejection, confrontation and dismissal people from high powered CEOs to rural school teachers wanted to support Black Lives Matter. Combining with the #metoo movement there was a push to talk about the senseless killings of Black women. The country suddenly wanted to remember black women’s lives mattered after Breonna Taylor’s life was taken.

Faitth Brooks was doing antiracist and women’s flourishing work in the aftermath. And after years of reflecting she came to a truth, we need to remember black women now, not only when they have been killed. She tells her story and creates space for other black women to be uplifted in her new book Remember Me Now: A Journey Back to Myself and a Love Letter to Black Women. UrbanFaith sat down with Faitth to talk about her journey, her new book, and her thoughts on how we can join in remembering black women now. More about the book is below, the full interview is above.

 

 

Diary of A Wimpy Author: An Interview with Jeff Kinney

Diary of A Wimpy Author: An Interview with Jeff Kinney

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is one of best selling children’s book series of the past few decades. UrbanFaith contributor Maina Mwaura and his daughter Zyan sat down with the author Jeff Kinney to get his perspective on great ways to engage our children, how faith plays a role in his writing, and what’s next for Diary of A Wimpy Kid.

What is Kwanzaa Really About?

What is Kwanzaa Really About?

Video Courtesy of Inside Edition


All week long, African Americans have been celebrating Kwanzaa across the U.S.

Perhaps you may attend a Kwanzaa celebration at your church or even participate in Kwanzaa in the comforts of your own home, but do you really know why? What is Kwanzaa and why do so many African Americans choose to celebrate the holiday?

Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga created and developed Kwanzaa in 1966. Dr. Karenga is an author, professor, and scholar-activist who is passionate about sustaining Pan-African culture in America with an emphasis on celebrating the family and the community.

There are three main ideas that are foundational to sustaining Kwanzaa tradition. The first idea is to reinstate rootedness in African culture. The second is to serve as a consistent, annual, public celebration to strengthen and confirm the bonds between people of the African diaspora. And finally, Kwanzaa is to familiarize and support the “Nguzo Saba,” also known as the “Seven Principles,” which are each celebrated during the seven days following Christmas.

These seven principles represent the values of African communication. They include the following:

  1. Umoja or Unity
  2. Kujichagulia or Self-Determination
  3. Ujima or Collective Work and Responsibility
  4. Ujamaa or Cooperative Economics
  5. Nia or Purpose
  6. Kuumba or Creativity
  7. Imani or Faith.

People celebrate Kwanzaa in numerous ways and have different practices that have been incorporated into their celebrations.

Symbolic Decor

Are you unsure as to how you and your family can participate in a Kwanzaa celebration? A good way to start is to decorate your home or living quarters with the symbols of Kwanzaa.

First start by putting a green tablecloth over a table that is centrally based in the space in the space you intend to decorate. Then, place the Mkeka, a woven mat or straw that represents the factual cornerstone of African descent, on top of the tablecloth.

Place the Mazao, the fruit or crops placed in a bowl, on top of the Mkeka symbolizing the culture’s productivity. Next, place the Kinara, a seven-pronged candle holder, on the tablecloth. The Kinara should include the Mishumaa Saba, seven candles that represent the seven central principles of Kwanzaa.

The three candles placed on the left are red, symbolizing struggle, the three candles to the right are green, symbolizing hope, and one candle placed in the center is black, symbolizing those who draw their heritage from Africa or simply just the African American people. The candles are lit each day in a certain order, and the black candle is always first.

Next, include the Muhindi, or ears of corn, used to symbolize each child. However, if there are no children present, place two ears to represent the children within the community.

Also, include Zawadi, gifts for the children, on the table. And finally, don’t forget the Kikombe cha Umoja, a cup to symbolize family and unity within the community.

Pan-African Creativity

You may also choose to decorate the rest of your home with Kwanzaa flags, called Bendera, and posters focusing on the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Some children usually take pleasure in making these flags or they may be purchased instead. African national and tribal flags can also be created to symbolize the seven principles.

Other ways to celebrate may include learning Kwanzaa greetings, such as “Habari Gani,” which is a traditional Swahili greeting for “What is the news?”

Other activities for celebrating Kwanzaa is to have a ceremony, which may include lighting the candles, musical selections played on the drums, readings of the African Pledge and the Principles of Blackness, reflections on the Pan-African colors, discussing African principles for that day and/or reciting chapters in African heritage. Be creative!

 

Have you and your family been participating in your own Kwanzaa traditions? Share them below.