In February each year, Americans of African descent join all other Americans to celebrate Black History Month. In many quarters of the United States and other parts of the world, celebrations of this historic event take place. Accordingly, the significance of observing a black history for a full thirty days should be viewed and manifested in many more ways than merely recalling the Emancipation Proclamation that “freed” black people from the shackles of slavery. Certainly, “a black history” in its entirety transcends the Civil Rights Movement that legally “ended” black-white segregation particularly in the United States.Even more so, the emphasis of honoring a Black History Month must be placed far above President Barrack Obama’s assumption of the presidency of the United States as the first African American to do so. Although a well-orchestrated “million-man” march on Washington in 1963 marked a pivotal point in the black man’s liberation struggles, it does not nearly define the essence of observing a full month of black history as an end in itself.It is common knowledge that the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s headed by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was at the height of the black liberation struggles. As significant as this historical event may seem, it was but a part of the global picture of the black man’s struggles for freedom.Therefore, it must never be seen as a cut-off point where the battle for ‘equal rights for all’ ended. It goes without saying that to assume so would equal to a presumption that with the passing of the Civil Rights Act, the struggles for equal rights and justice was over for all people of color. The truth is that to this day, there remain many more challenges for descendants of freed slaves. Lest I be misunderstood, this is not to argue that the achievements of Dr. King and the likes of him do not hold very significant place in the annals of black history. They certainly do, to say the least.My concern here, however, is about perception, especially on the part of those who were (and still are) direct beneficiaries of the resulting effects of those great movements and concepts. Take (for example) in contemporary America, how does the average African American relate all of his rights guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States to an opportunity for success? How does the average African American utilize his god-given ability to learn and sharply compete in a world plagued by rivalries and fierce competition? How do the legacy of Dr. King & the Civil Rights Movement on the one hand and the legacy of Dr. Carter D. Woodson & Black History Month on the other, influence the ambitions of black people to attain formal education and other technical skills? What necessary measures are needed by descendants of free slaves that will ultimately gravitate them to better paying jobs and other luxuries of life? Working towards conclusive answers to these inquiries will go a long way in making Black History Month the single most proficient way to immortalize all liberation movements that fought to attain equal rights and justice for all people. Besides accentuating a commitment to perpetually keep alive the legacies of Dr. Carter D. Woodson, Activist Frederick Douglas, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others, this will ultimately keep their heavenly spirits in absolute balance and unending joy and happiness!Black HistoryIt is in this respect that I strongly believe that in paraphrasing the history of black liberation during programs marking the observance of Black History Month, the story must be told as accurately as possible by, at least, highlighting significant details. As the old adage says, “that which is not done legally, is not done at all”. In much the same way, a history not completely retold is, at best, a history not told at all! More often than not, stories after stories of great black heroes in nearly every aspect of American and world history are told each year as we observe Black History Month. Interestingly, mentions are never made of the significant transition from slavery to freedom and the subsequent demonstration by the early freed men to self-govern.A case in point here is the display of magnificent skills and bravery by a handful of the emancipated slaves who, using their god-given talents, institutionalized a nation state and subsequently declared a free and independent state nearly a hundred and sixty-five years ago. In consequence of the repeated failures of keynote speakers at Black History Month celebrations to dwell on the single most important achievement of blacks, the number one success story of those noble men and women are hardly bought into the spotlight. It is appalling that at programs commemorating Black History Month, we repeatedly hear of a few great black inventors, singers and the likes but black political geniuses who founded and declared political independence of a sovereign black state as early as the mid 19th century are never mentioned for once. I am uncertain of what the opinion of my readers might be on this, but I sturdily feel that the quest and subsequent attainment of political independence for an all-black republic nearly two hundred years ago, supersede all other achievements in all black history. I stand corrected!The gravity of this arduous achievement may be better understood when one considers, for example, the establishment of the first Negro Republic of Liberia in the first half of the 19th century (J. Horton & L. Horton, Slavery And The Making of America, 95). Following this remarkable achievement,it took more than a hundred years for the first set of black nations on the continent of Africa to gain political independence from their European white colonial masters. Here in the United States, it took unreasonably longer before the first civil rights act was singed into law. Ultimately, when it came to the pursue of happiness and the right to liberty for the early black man, what more could be more fulfilling than the right to self-governance? Regrettably, emancipation accounts are repeatedly narrated during these great black national events far short of this indisputable account.
I hesitate not to argue further that this (outright) failure by renowned speakers during Black History festivities to make mention of The Declaration of Independence of a free & sovereign black state on the West Coast of Africa by emancipated slaves is like an attempt by a serpent to move past its head. What this does invariably is making an attempt similar to presenting a specialized profile of a region without reference to the inhabitants of that region. What other achievements could be greater than the attainment of political independence for a people held in bondage for hundreds of years? Just as they remained fully cognizant that generations after generations of their ancestors were held in oppression for nearly three centuries in the Americas, many of these black heroes got first-hand experienced of slavery as well. Pursuant to their personal experiences of the greatest human tragedy in all of history, the freed men never took for granted the right to freedom and the pursuit of happiness.It is out of this concern that as America observes Black History Month each February, I wish to bring into focus an often ignored (but the single most significant) achievement of the black man in the post emancipation era. I have spent a number of years working in public related institutions where the observance of Black History Month is taken seriously each year. Institutions and individuals at all levels in society often attend programs commemorating these events. Many invitees at these functions participate in activities ranging from singing church spirituals to celebrities performing popular stage shows. Often, top academia are called to present “professional” research papers on various topics in black history. It is astonishingly disgusting to note that even at such well organized and intellectual events, the attainment of self-governance by free black slaves are never indicated, much less discussed. Until the meaning of Black History Month fully encompasses the single most significant achievement of freed slaves, the salinity of the observance itself will remain far-fetched.The more I ponder over the inept approaches used by heirs of those great black heroes and the failure to duly memorialize their ancestors, the greater I sense some irresistible urge to bring into the spotlight the forgotten link between Black History Month and the early successes of people of color in their fight for equal rights and self-governance. Overall, the first and foremost agenda item for those black pioneers was a genuine quest for self-governance and the pursuit of happiness that would include the right to freedom and justice. By way of emphasis, I reiterate here again that it is important that the history of the African American is not told until someone forcefully and truly tells the entire story. While the intent of this brief article is not to retell black history, I shall endeavor to speak briefly to the necessity of bridging a significant link (long broken & forgotten) between Black History Month and Liberia, the first black republic.As I do so, some efforts will be made to expound on the extended determination for freedom by an oppressed people and the glaring similarities between the former and the latter. To enhance this review, let us slip back into history for a short while.The oldest recorded history of what is known today as Black History Month dates back to 1915 when one Dr. Carter D. Woodson and Rev. Jesse E. Moorland co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, acronym ASNLH (biography.com/blackhistory: 1/20/2011). Primarily, the objective of the Association was to research and bring awareness to the ignored but important and crucial role blacks played not only in American but also in world history. In just one year, Woodson published his findings in the Journal of Negro History. The intent of that publication was to cast out all misconceptions about the Negro. Additionally, it attempted to educate black people about their cultural background and to instill in them some pride in their race.Carter Woodson himself, who was the second black man to receive a degree from Harvard University, was the son of a former slave. He understood the importance of education and advocated the preservation of one’s heritage. A fraternity group called PSI Phil created Negro History & Literature Week at Woodson’s request in 1920. In just six years later (1926), Woodson changed the name to Negro History Week. He then selected the month of February primarily to honor two men whose actions radically (but positively) changed the future of all (black) Americans. The one was President Abraham Lincoln, born on February 12, who issued the Emancipation Proclamation and the other was Frederick Douglas who was born February 14. Douglas, too, was a tireless advocate to end slavery.Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, provided learning materials to teachers, black history clubs, and the larger community. In 1950, Dr. Woodson died but his legacy continued as cities and organizations through out the country adopted the celebration of Negro History Week. During the Civil Rights Movements of the 1950s and the 1960s, the observation of the week gained prominence as the focus turned more and more on the significance of black cultures (biography.com/blackhistory: 1/20/2011).This, in effect, moved the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) to change Negro History Week to Black History Week. The ASNLH is now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASAALH). The week was extended in 1976 to a one-month long observance.It is little wonder, therefore, that today Black History Month is celebrated through out the United States by not only school kids, but also by everyone in the USA including teachers & university professors, doctors, lawyers, paraprofessionals, economists, politicians, men, women and everyone in between.When President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 (J. Horton & E. Horton, 187), major revolutionary changes ensued which brought some level of freedom and sanity to enslaved Africans for the first time in over two hundred years. However in the decades following, the freed men were left with daunting challenges including the need for food, adequate shelter & clothing, and (perhaps more importantly) the natural urgings for self-governance.The Founding of Liberia: “Land of the Free”I was born and raised in Liberia; a small West African country with a population of under four million people. As a child, I attended public school where I learned first to write and then speak English under American English instructors. All through grade and junior high school, my instructors were American volunteered teachers (Peace Corps) who were exceptionally inspirational and who proved to be true fountain of knowledge for kids of my age. We learned to write and (tried) to speak the American version of English as opposed to the British style. We were taught the American way of doing arithmetic. We studied American literature and read great American folktales such as those of Paul Bunyan and Gulliver’s Travel. In grade school, we learned and recited the four seasons and other climatic conditions of the United States. Exclusively, we used American textbooks and learned a great deal of everything American, though we were not American children.Outside of our academic milieu, we again tried to do everything American, from soul music to soul limbo on the dance floor, for instance. When we honored calls from our teachers to perform a chore after school at a teacher’s house or when we were asked simply to complete a special assignment, we were always given something to eat or drink as some form of positive re-enforcement.In a way, this helped us as kids to acknowledge American generosity. At grade school level and with limited English vocabulary, these gestures gravitated us to our American tutors and allowed a bond of relationship that did not exist between some of my peers and their biological parents. Some children my age and some older kids went the extra mile and dressed the American way as they spent their last dollar (allowance) to purchase fancy baggy pants and go-go shoes. With the passage of time and as we became little more fluent at speaking and writing English, the bonds of teacher-student relationships between our American teachers and some socially ambitious students became stronger. Our utopian view of America broadened as we grew older. A substantial number of these kids later married to their former instructors who now live happily as couples in the US today.I have deliberately drawn my childhood experience into this discourse simply to draw attention to the conspicuous similarity between the cultures of Liberia, the first black independent state, and the people of the United States as viewed from the perspective of the African American community. Prior to the overthrow of government in 1980, the official currency of the Republic of Liberia was the United States dollar. This reality is rooted deeply in the fact that Liberia was founded by former slaves who shunned mediocrity and rose above pettiness to establish a sovereign state. Since independence in 1847, nineteen of Liberia’s twenty-two presidents were emigrants who were sons and grand sons of former slaves from the United States. As a nation state, Liberia has played and continues to play pivotal role in international relations. As a founding member of the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union), Liberia helped champion the liberation struggles of many former European colonies in all of Africa.If part or all of the essence of observing Black History Month, therefore, is to be interpreted to mean honoring the achievements of a segment of God’s creation who were held in bondage for centuries, then why has Black History Month been so distinctly unable to link to Liberia as a shining example of black achievements? If Liberia, in the history of humankind, was the torchbearer of black freedom, independence, and self-governance, then why do planners at Black History Month festivities pay death ears and play blind eyes to the crucial relationship between two sisterly establishments that are so culturally interwoven?According to Dr. Carter Woodson, co-founder of Black History Month, the number one goal of observing black history is to bring awareness to the crucial roles blacks played in both American and world history. Incidentally, a major part of such roles was played decades earlier by the establishment of the first Negro republic. Hence, if the organic laws of Liberia have anything to do with proclaiming equal rights and justice for people of color everywhere, as they certainly do, then the ASAALH as parent organization of Black History Month Festivities, must step up to this challenge by calling a spade a spade. Let each annual observance of Black History Month include public proclamation about the founding of Liberia (Land of Liberty) as the first significant step of the Blackman’s march to freedom and equality. It is not enough to argue, as some may be tempted to, that because Liberia is not a part or territory of the United States, due credits for successes of the black liberation struggles should not be extended thereto. Under whatever canopy, such argument would not hold air because, as indicated supra, the first written account of self-governance by a group of blacks was that occasioned by the establishment of Liberia, a nation founded by former slaves from the United States. I am strongly convinced that the resolve of an oppressed people to meander their way out of slavery and established a constitutional democracy is a milestone worth emulating, even so at all commemorations of Black History Month. In essence, when it comes to the political achievements of black ancestors, there must be no boundaries even as to politics, economics or other non-political occurrences.
Now let us return to the brief review of the establishment of Liberia as the first black independent nation founded solely by African Americans with support from the American Colonization Society, ACS. The ACS was co-founded by Henry Clay, John Randolph and Richard Bland Lee and officially established in Washington D.C. on December 16, 1826. This was nearly fifty years before slavery was outlawed in the United States. According to Wikipedia, the ACS was principally founded as a vehicle to support the return of black people to what was considered “greater freedom” in Africa. With support from prominent activists including Paul Cuffe, a mixed race and a wealthy New England ship owner, the ACS received support from many black leaders and members of congress for an emigration plan. “Under the protection of Captain Paul Cuffe and his crew of seven, eight adults and twenty children crammed aboard the seventy-foot brig headed for their new homesteads” (Paul Cuffe, Black Entrepreneur and Pan-Africanist, Thomas 101). From 1811 to 1816, Cuffe financed and captained successful voyages to Africa. Between 1820 and 1822, the ACS in conjunction with prominent black leaders and activists, founded the nation of Liberia with the sole purpose of repatriating from the United States all freed men of color. Eventually, the dreams of Entrepreneur Cuffe became a reality (Thomas 119).Superficially, the role of the American Colonization Society in the repatriation efforts of Africans appeared genuine with a purported claim of giving black people the opportunity to live “fuller lives” in Africa. However, as it played out, no sooner did it become evident that nearly all of the advocates for the repatriation of blacks who participated in the resettlement arguments did so for motives far unrelated to genuine concerns for the black man’s right to life and liberty. For example, the American Colonization Society and the Quakers or various Christian leaders who supported the abolition of slavery in collaboration with ordinary slaveholders, saw the resettlement of freed slaves to Africa primarily as the safest way to abort perceived threats from free blacks to the (American) society. Although members of the ACS officially denounced slavery in all its form, many were openly racists as they argued that blacks would be unable to fit into the white society of America.As we observe Black History each year, it is important that we soberly reflect on the colossal controversies in history that have attended the denial of the rights of the black man to live freely, independently and happily. Unlike the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and the 1960s, the resettlement efforts in the pre-revolutionary civil war era resulted from a variety of motives. As mentioned above, many slaveholders and some abolitionists held strong views that blacks could not achieve equality in the United States, no matter what. In addition, there were those who became progressively more apprehensive that increasing number of free black slaves would eventually encourage slave revolts, while others out-rightly perceived the Black man as a burden to society and a threat to white workers because they (black) were paid much lower wages. As above mentioned, some members of the ACS who denounced slavery in all its form, were openly racists. They, too, argued likewise.In consequence of these pathetic accounts in the archives of black history, it is my fervent opinion that the concluding paragraph of this article calls into focus the broken & forgotten link between the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASAALH) and Black History Month on the one hand, and the Republic of Liberia on the other. Besides being a torchbearer of freedom for people of color, the Republic of Liberia was founded for and by African Americans nearly two hundred years ago. When Dr. Carter Woodson and Rev Jesse E. Moorland co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History back in 1915, they did so to spotlight the many roles black people played in the world that were often ignored or never referenced. In black history, therefore, Liberia was the first symbol of black freedom and independence and if Black History Month annually recollects eminent black achievements in history, then the former and the latter are closely related. They both exemplify the success stories of all black people. The two are directly related. Link them!The End