In the latter part of 2022, African leaders attended the USA-African Leadership Summit in New York City. The significance of this conference was that it was addressed by New York City Mayor, Eric Adams, during which he outlined the rise to power of African Americans in various high-level positions across the USA – and were unachievable a hundred years ago.
Apart from describing himself as the mayor of the most important city (New York City) in the world’s most important country, Mr. Adams also alluded to the fact that mayors of four of other most important cities in the USA are also African-Americans. He urged the visiting African Heads of State and dignitaries to understand the reality of African-Americans’ rise to power and begin to connect with the significant changes. “You need to feel the power of Africans running the most significant cities and counties in some of the biggest states in the USA,” he told his compatriots.
In fact, everything the Major of New Nork City said in his address reflected the aspirations of African-Americans to attain civil and political rights from the ashes of slavery and margilisation. In many ways, his speech also alluded to the historic significance of Black History Month, which is celebrated in February of every year.
According to Mayor Adams, during a recent trip to Ghana and Senegal it dawned on him that though their ancestors left Africa as slaves, the current generations of African-America are returning to Africa as people transformed from descendants of slaves to people with power and dignity in the most powerful country of the world. Therefore, he urged African -Americans to reawaken the spirits of their ancestors by doing something positive with the power they control in the USA.
Black History Month
In 1915, Carter G. Woodson travelled to Chicago from his home in Washington, D.C., to participate in a national celebration of the 50th anniversary of emancipation. As he joined the thousands of Black Americans in the Coliseum, which housed exhibits highlighting African American achievements since the abolition of slavery, Woodson was inspired to do more in the spirit of celebrating Black history and heritage. He therefor helped to form the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). A year later, Woodson launched the Journal of Negro History – in which he and other researchers documented the achievements of Black Americans in world civilisation and development.
Born in 1875 at New Canton, Virginia, Woodson did various menial jobs to help support his large family. After attending Berea College in Kentucky, Woodson worked in the Philippines as an education superintendent for the U.S. government. Thereafter, he earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at the University of Chicago before entering Harvard. In 1912, three years before founding the ASNLH, he became only the second African-American (after W.E.B. DuBois) to earn a doctorate from that institution.
In February 1926, Woodson announced the first Negro History Week in February because the month contained the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass – two prominent men whose historic achievements African-Americans already celebrated. (Lincoln’s birthday was February 12; Douglass, who was formerly enslaved, hadn’t known his actual birthday but marked the occasion on February 14.)
He wrote more than 20 books, including A Century of Negro Migration (1918), The History of the Negro Church (1921), The Negro in Our History (1922) and his most celebrated text, The Miseducation of the Negro (1933). As early as the 1940s, efforts began to expand the week for public celebration of African-American heritage and achievements into a longer event. This shift had barely begun by 1950, when Woodson died suddenly of a heart-attack in Washington.
The legacy of Luther King
Martin Luther King Jr. was a social activist who played a key role in the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. King sought equality and human rights for African-Americans, and all victims of injustice, through peaceful protest. He was the driving force behind watershed events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1963 March on Washington, which triggered legislation such as the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and is remembered each year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a U.S. federal holiday since 1986.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, the second child of Martin Luther King Sr., a pastor, and Alberta Williams King, a former schoolteacher. King attended segregated public schools, and at the age of 15 was admitted to Morehouse College where he studied medicine and law. After graduating in 1948, King entered Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, where he earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks – secretary of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) – refused to offer her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus and was arrested. His arrest caused a bus boycott that lasted 381 days and placed a severe economic strain on the public transit system and downtown business owners. Naturally, Martin Luther King Jr. became the protest’s leader and official spokesman.
By the time the Supreme Court ruled segregated seating on public buses as unconstitutional in November 1956, King had attained the national spotlight as an inspirational proponent of organised, non-violent resistance. By that point, King had become a target for white supremacists – who firebombed his family home that January. Arrested for his involvement in civil disobedience on April 12, 1963, King wrote the civil rights manifesto known as the ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ – an eloquent defence of civil disobedience addressed to a group of white clergymen who had criticised his tactics.
March on Washington
Later that year, Martin Luther King Jr. collaborated with a number of civil rights and religious groups to organise the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; a peaceful political rally designed to shed light on the injustices Black Americans continued to face across the country.
Held on August 28, 1963 and attended by more than 300,000 participants (both Negros and hite), the event is widely regarded as a watershed in the history of the American civil rights movement and a catalyst in passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The March on Washington culminated in King’s most famous address, the “I Have a Dream” speech – a spirited call for peace and equality that many consider a masterpiece of rhetoric.
Rise of civil rights
With the rise of civil rights and Black Power movements in the 1960s, younger members of the ASNLH (which later became the Association for the Study of African-American History) urged the organisation to shift to a month-long celebration of Black history. In 1976, the Association officially made the shift to Black History Month.
Since then, every U.S. president has issued a proclamation honouring the spirit of Black History Month. Gerald Ford began the tradition in 1976, saying the celebration enabled people to “seize the opportunity to honour the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavour throughout our history”. Ronald Reagan’s first Black History Month proclamation stated that “Understanding the history of Black Americans is a key to understanding the strength of our nation”.
First Black president
In 2016, Barack Obama – the nation’s first Black president – made his last proclamation in honour of Woodson’s initiative, now recognised as one of the nation’s oldest organised celebrations of history. “As we mark the 40th year of National African-American History Month, let us reflect on the sacrifices and contributions made by generations of –Americans; and let us resolve to continue our march toward a day when every person knows the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Similarly, in January 2021 Kamala Harris became the first woman of African or Asian descent to become vice president. Harris’s mother immigrated to the United States from India and her father emigrated from Jamaica.
In short, Black History Month honours the contributions of African-Americans to U.S. history, political and economic development. Among the prominent figures are Madam C.J. Walker, who was the first U.S. woman to become a self-made millionaire; George Washington Carver, who derived nearly 300 products from the peanut; Rosa Parks, who sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and catalysed the civil rights movement; and Shirley Chisholm, who was the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Apart from attaining several milestones and accomplishments in sports, business, politics, music, law, education etc., many African-Americans have been documented as making both simple and complex inventions which made life easy for people across the world.
Top 14 Black Inventors
- Mailbox (1891) – Phillip Downing.
- Traffic lights (1922) – Garrett Morgan.
- Automatic Gear Shift (1932) – Richard Spikes.
- Clothes Dryer (1892) – George T. Sampson.
- Automatic Elevator Doors (1887) – Alexander Miles.
- Folding Chairs (1889) – John Purdy.
- Gas Heating Furnace (1919) – Alice H. Parker
- Golf-Tee (1899) – George Grant
- Modern Toilet (1872) – Thomas Elkins
- Home Security Systems (1966) – Mary Van Brittan Brown
- Pacemaker (1964) – Otis Boykin
- Potato Chips (1853) – George Speck (aka. George Crum
- Thermostat/Temperature Control (1935) – Frederick Jones
- Touch-Tone Telephone (1987) – Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson.
So, rather than denigrating Africans and those of African descent, the western media and journalists have an ethical and moral responsibility to remind the world that it was African labour that built the Americas and Europe. The western media must tell the world that it is Africa’s resources that continue to sustain the world economy. Thus, Africa has given more to the world than the world has given to Africa.
In short, the world needs Africa more than Africa needs the world. Honestly, a continent that has more resources than any other continent in the world should not be poor and shackled with debt. Why is the global conspiracy to destroy Africa on the ascendancy despite the effects of colonialism and the slave trade?
Reconnecting to Africa
In fact, at this time the world should be celebrating the contributions of Africans to world civilisation and development. Africa is in the news for being shackled in huge debts, reminiscent of the slave shackles which bound us for centuries. As the Mayor of New City – Eric Adams – noted, Africans in the Diaspora need to put the past behind them and reconnect with Africa as the Indians, Irish and Chinese are doing. Across the world, Diasporas have become the driving force behind economic and social transformation of their countries and continents, except for Africans in the Diaspora.
While it was the civil rights movements and agitation for political rights in the USA that spurred leaders like Kwame Nkrumah to commence the liberation struggle in Africa, the continent’s long-term economic and social transformation must be spearheaded by Africans in the Diaspora. Not only has Africa been ignored, but its resources also continue to be plundered by the very rich countries it is indebted to. Consequently, the New York City Mayor challenges Africans in the Diaspora to reawaken the spirits of their ancestors that are crying from beneath the Atlantic Ocean.
Mayor Adams quotes Marcus Garvey as reminding Africans: “Up, you mighty people; you can be what you want to be”.
History. 2023. Origins of Black History Month
Carter G. Woodson, 1910