HOW 'BLACK' IS OUR HISTORY MONTH?
There will be little, if any, remembrance of the men and women who fought for freedom in far more aggressive, and militant ways. While some may hear the occasional names, usually they too are softened and sweetened with time, to make them safe historical morsels for white, and corporate consumption.
HOW 'BLACK' IS OUR HISTORY MONTH?
[Col. Writ. 1/31/07] Copyright 2007 Mumia Abu-Jamal
For years, decades now, folks have celebrated Black History Month, with
a plethora of events.
There will be movies, book readings, poetry events, concerts and the like.
Coming, as it does, on the heels of the nation's celebration of the life
of Martin Luther King, Jr., much of what will be heard will no doubt
echo that event.
But Black History is far richer, and far deeper than King.
Rev. Dr. King, who has been edited into a safe, sweet, nonviolent
modern-day Christ-like figure and icon of peace, forgiveness and
forbearance, has himself been transformed into a one-dimensional figure
which ignores his fullness as a growing, thinking, developing man. He
was far more radical than many of those who now call his name are ready
There will be little, if any, remembrance of the men and women who
fought for freedom in far more aggressive, and militant ways. While
some may hear the occasional names, usually they too are softened and
sweetened with time, to make them safe historical morsels for white, and
It's doubtful that the name William Parker will be shouted out, even
though, over a century and a 1/2 ago, he led the Christiana Revolt in
Pennsylvania, which, because of its nature, sent shock waves across the
country, so much so that historians of that era, like James McPherson
and Phillip Foner considered Christiana to be harbingers of the Civil
War to come. Parker, his wife, Eliza, and other members of "The Special
Secret Committee" (a black self-defense group) fought against
slaveowners and U.S. marshals who wanted to send people back into
slavery. The Parkers and their neighbors fought with guns, machetes,
and sticks. Parker and his clan of freedom fighters had to flee the US
to find freedom.
The Christiana Revolt of 1851 should be on millions of lips during Black
History month. But there will be no movies, no special notices in the
corporate press, and few scattered references to this signal event in
the history of the struggle for freedom.
The great Frederick Douglass later wrote of Christiana, that it "more
than all else" destroyed the fugitive slave law. Douglass wrote:
"It became almost a dead letter, for slaveholders found that not only
did it fail to put them in possession of their slaves, but that the
attempt to enforce it brought odium upon themselves and weakened the
slave system." [Cited in: Forbes, Ella. 'But We Have No Country: The
1851 Christiana Pennsylvania Resistance'. (Cherry Hill, NJ: Africana
Homestead Legacy, 1998) , p. 114.]
And while we may know the name of the famous rebel, Nat Turner, how many
of us actually celebrate his memory? His fight for freedom echoed
around the world, for it showed that the violence of slavery would be
answered by the violence of the oppressed. For what was slavery but
violence, and resistance against that violence but self-defense?
I doubt that the name Charles Deslondes will elicit the least flicker of
recognition, but he was the leader of a slave revolt that rocked New
Orleans in 1811.
The revolt aboard the Amistad is known to many (due in part to movies).
But the Amistad wasn't the only one. Ships like the Little George were
seized over a century before the Amistad, but, today, who knows its
name? Here in 1730, some 96 captives seized the craft, and in 9 days,
successfully sailed back to Africa. Two years thereafter, Africans
aboard the William did the same thing, set the crew adrift, and sailed
The late, great Herbert Aptheker, in his classic *American Negro Slave
Revolts*, recounted over 250 such rebellions against the vile slave system.
Coming closer to our time, how many of us will look back, not centuries,
but mere months, to the horrors and hypocrisies of Hurricane Katrina?
For Black History didn't end centuries ago; and didn't begin with the
Civil Rights Act.
It's an ancient history, and also as present as yesterday.
Katrina -- the ravages, not of weather, but of government, as Black Arts
Movement poet, playwright, and essayist Marvin X put it so eloquently in
his recent *Beyond Religion -- Toward Spirituality: Essays on
Consciousness* (Cherokee, CA: Black Bird Press, 2006):
"We have tried their sham democratic elections to no avail, as we saw in
the 2000 general election when our votes were discounted. Between our
treatment in the 2000 election and Katrina, what else do we need to know
about American democracy? What part of no don't you understand? Both
events revealed America to be nothing more than a banana republic with
respect to us: we were treated worse than dogs in both respects." [p. 192]
Another poet, Palestinian-American Suheir Hammad, used her art to pose a
potent question raised by Katrina:
"Who do we pledge our allegiance to?
A government that leaves its old
To die of thirst surrounded by water
Is a foreign government." [Fr.: *What Lies Beneath: Katrina, Race and
the State of the Nation*, ed. South End Press Collective (Cambridge, MA:
South End Press, 2007), p. 187]
Black History Month -- a time to remember that which the corporate
culture wishes is forgotten. A time to remember rebellion, resistance,
and what it means to be Black in the White Nation -- today.
Copyright 2007 Mumia Abu-Jamal
[Mr. Jamal's recent book features a chapter on the
remarkable women who helped build and defend
the Black Panther Party: *WE WANT FREEDOM:
A Life in the Black Panther Party*, from South
End Press ( http://www.southendpress.org); Ph.
"When a cause comes along and you know in your bones that it is
just, yet refuse to defend it--at that moment you begin to die.
And I have never seen so many corpses walking around talking about
justice." - Mumia Abu-Jamal
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