By Sgt. 1st Class Reginald L. Douglass
It could just be me, but have you ever noticed that there is no “good” history or “bad” history section when you go to look things up? By definition history is just a continuous, systematic narrative of past events as relating to a particular people, country, period or person.
Here is my dilemma, I wanted to highlight some of the great accomplishments in black history or good things if you will, but there is no section from which to draw from; there is simply history and your perspective. That being the case let us look at Black history and you decide for yourself. After all, observances are to recognize the continuous achievements of all Americans to American culture and to increase awareness, mutual respect, and understanding.
In looking at significant events in the African American/ Black History time line, several come to mind. I offer these for your consideration and I wonder if one or several of these events had happened differently or not at all, how would it have changed our current way of life.
In the year 1619, the first African slaves arrived in Virginian for sale.
Slavery is made illegal in the Northwest Territory in 1787, while the U.S Constitution states that Congress may not ban the slave trade until 1808.
In 1808, Congress bans the importation of slaves from Africa.
On July 2, 1839, 53 African slaves on board the slave ship, the Amistad, revolted against their captors; killing all but the ship’s navigator, who sailed them to Long Island, N.Y., instead of their intended destination, Africa. Joseph Cinqué was the group’s leader. The slaves aboard the ship became unwitting symbols for the antislavery movement in pre-Civil War United States. After several trials in which local and federal courts argued that the slaves were taken as kidnap victims rather than merchandise, the slaves were acquitted. The former slaves aboard the Spanish vessel Amistad secured passage home to Africa with the help of sympathetic missionary societies in 1842.
The Dred Scott case of 1857 holds that Congress does not have the right to ban slavery in states and, furthermore, that slaves are not citizens.
The Confederacy is founded when the South secedes, and the Civil War begins in 1861. Shortly thereafter in 1863, President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the Confederate states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
In 1865, several things went into rapid fire mode: Congress establishes the Freedmen’s Bureau to protect the rights of newly emancipated blacks (March); The Civil War ends (April 9); Lincoln is assassinated (April 14);The Ku Klux Klan is formed in Tennessee by ex-Confederates (May); slavery in the United States is effectively ended when 250,000 slaves in Texas finally receive the news that the Civil War had ended two months earlier (June 19); thirteenth amendment to the Constitution is ratified prohibiting slavery (Dec. 6). One might say it was a very busy year.
In 1870 the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, giving blacks the right to vote. Hiram Revels of Mississippi is elected the country’s first African-American senator. During Reconstruction, sixteen blacks served in Congress and about 600 served in states legislatures. Plessy v. Ferguson: this landmark Supreme Court decision of 1896 holds that racial segregation is constitutional, paving the way for the repressive Jim Crow laws in the South. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is founded in New York by prominent black and white intellectuals and led by W.E.B. Du Bois. For the next half century, it would serve as the country’s most influential African-American civil rights organization, dedicated to political equality and social justice. In 1910, its journal “The Crisis” was launched. Among its well known leaders were James Weldon Johnson, Ella Baker, Moorfield Storey, Walter White, Roy Wilkins, Benjamin Hooks, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Julian Bond, and Kwesi Mfume.
Jackie Robinson breaks Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947 when he is signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers by Branch Rickey.
1948, although African Americans had participated in every major U.S. war, it was not until after World War II that President Harry S. Truman issues an executive order integrating the U.S. armed forces.
In 1955 a young black boy, Emmett Till, is brutally murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. Two white men charged with the crime are acquitted by an all-white jury. They later boast about committing the murder. The public outrage generated by the case helps spur the civil rights movement.
Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat at the front of the “colored section” of a bus to a white passenger Dec.1, 1955. In response to her arrest Montgomery’s black community launch a successful year-long bus boycott. Montgomery’s buses are desegregated on Dec. 21, 1956.
In 1960 four black students in Greensboro, North Carolina, begin a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter. Six months later the “Greensboro Four” are served lunch at the same Woolworth’s counter. The event triggers many similar nonviolent protests throughout the South.
1964 was another busy year for Black history; President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act, the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. It prohibits discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion, or national origin (July 2). The bodies of three civil-rights workers are found. Murdered by the KKK, James E. Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner had been working to register black voters in Mississippi (Aug.). Martin Luther King receives the Nobel Peace Prize.
1967 saw President Johnson appoint Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court. He becomes the first black Supreme Court Justice. The Supreme Court rules in Loving v. Virginia that prohibiting interracial marriage is unconstitutional. Sixteen states still have anti-miscegenation laws and are forced to revise them.
Martin Luther King, Jr., is assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. in 1968.
In 1972, the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis experiment ends. Begun in 1932, the U.S. Public Health Service’s 40-year experiment on 399 black men in the late stages of syphilis has been described as an experiment that “used human beings as laboratory animals in a long and inefficient study of how long it takes syphilis to kill someone.”
The 1978 Supreme Court case, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke upheld the constitutionality of affirmative action, but imposed limitations on it to ensure that providing greater opportunities for minorities did not come at the expense of the rights of the majority.
The first race riots in decades erupt in south-central Los Angeles after a jury acquits four white police officers for the videotaped beating of African-American, Rodney King in 1992.
Sen. Barack Obama, Democrat from Chicago, becomes the first African American to be nominated as a major party nominee for president. On November 4, 2008 Barack Obama, becomes the first African American to be elected president of the United States.
Now, these are just a few of a great number of historical events which could fall into any number of categories depending on several things: your background, perspective, and what type of history you are researching. Some of the events fall into the category of historical law, Confederate history, history of the KKK, medical science, Supreme Court decisions and so on, but they are all very definitely part of African American/ Black History. I say all of this simply to say, please don’t limit your perspective or your sources of learning. You never know where the next great piece of information or moment of clarity may come from. This month is one full of facts and history; not good or bad, simply a historical record from which we can learn. Then again it could just be me.