Kwanzaa and African American History

November 14, 2010

The study and celebration of African American History is a central component of Kwanzaa. The Kwanzaa symbol, the mat or mkeka (Swahili), is symbolic of the tradition and history of African Americans both here in America and on the continent of Africa. As Malcolm X so brilliantly put it, “History is a people’s memory, and without memory man is demoted to the lower animals.”

Moreover, we study history to learn its lessons, emulate its achievements, and celebrate its heroes and heroines. Given the state of America in general and African Americans in particular, there is no better time than now to examine the history of African Americans.

Lessons Learned

Struggle is essential to progress and achievement:  In history memorable speech on the twenty-third anniversary of “West India Emancipation,” Frederick Douglass uttered two paragraphs that became the most quoted sentences of all of his public orations. They began with the words, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle.

The lesson today is as follows: black student excellence in school performance like that in sports and entrainment, will be achieved only through painstaking effort and stick-to-it-ness. The words can’t do it, “stressed-out” and too hard, must not be in their vocabulary. And, the crisis in black life for black women and especially for black males will be overcome to the extent and intensity they struggle against the forces which created and sustain the crisis.

Emulating the Achievements of Black History

The cradle of civilizations begins in Africa: As Cheikh Anta Diop, George James, and others have documented, human civilization begin in the Nile Valley, Kemet (black face) or ancient Egypt. It was in the here in the Nile Valley that Africans developed the technology to build the pyramids, wrote the first religious texts- the Books of Rising Like Ra and the Book of Coming Forth By Day, the Declaration of Innocents (source of the Ten Commandments).

Timbuktu an Intellectual center for learning: From 1000 C.E. to the sixteenth century, Timbuktu flourished as one of the centers of human civilization. With its University of Sankore, it became known as one of the intellectual learning places in the world. Visitors from Europe and North Africa spoke with awe about the city’s university, stone palace, bustling markets, and bountiful courtly life.

Creation of America’s popular and classical music: The period in American history, known as the Harlem Renaissance or the New Negro Movement, defined the direction and form of modern American music. Thus, the Harlem Renaissance, which is often defined and discussed as a footnote in American history (Ghettoized), is what gave birth to America authentic classical and popular music.

The black freedom struggle, the corrective force in American history: The black freedom movement brought to fruition the notion of a nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men (and women) are created equal.”  This great movement resulted in expanded citizenship for all Americans, employing multiple strategies and tactics to overcome and knock down the political and social apparatus of American segregation. At the core of this movement were ordinary black men, women, youth and children.

Celebrating African Americans Heroes and Heroines

Yes We Can: The election of Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States:

The election of Barack Obama was a watershed event in African American and American history. Obama’s campaign strategy will be study as a masterpiece and a new model for electoral politic in the United States. His election represents more than a historical milestone for African American; it is affirmation of black people’s will to achieve.

Toni Morrison speaking our special literary truth: Toni Morrison is perhaps the most celebrated contemporary American novelist. Awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993, Morrison powerfully evokes in her fiction the legacies of displacement and slavery that have been bequeathed to the African-American community.

Malcolm X: The avatar of Black Power: Malcolm X’s contribution to advancement of the Black Freedom Struggle and the radicalization of America is due in large measure to his powerful anti-establishment message and the instructiveness of his life and political and even religious (Islam) orientation. “Malcolm’s years of political activity,” Peniel Joseph, writes “paralleled extraordinary historical events, ones that he profoundly influenced at the local, national and later, and the international level.”

I Have A Dream: Setting the Moral Agenda for America: Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream speech”, Dorothy I. Height observed was a “riveting sermon that struck the conscience of America, taking its place as one of the most famous speeches in human history.” Eric Sundquist points out  in his work, King’s Dream,  King unleashed his entire repertory: the quotation from the Declaration of Independence, the challenge to African Americans and whites alike, to live as brothers and sisters; the “hallmark metaphors in which the oppressive weight of injustice, generation after generation, comes palpably alive; the hope that one’s character, not the color of one’s skin, shall be the basis of judgment and reward; the attack on states’ rights framed in the daring terms of black and white children holding hands; the biblical injunction, here from the prophet Isaiah, to realize justice not only in God’s heaven but on god’s earth.

Ella Baker: Hero in American History: Few familiar with the history of the Civil Rights Movement would dare refute that Ella Baker is not one of the most important organizer in American history. It is common knowledge that the civil rights movement made America a better nation for all Americans and became a symbol and model for future freedom struggles in the world. Yet, the contribution of Ella Baker is overshadowed by the men and women- Martin Luther King, Kwame Ture ( Stokely Carmichael), Congressman John Lewis, Mayor Marion Barry, Congresswoman  Eleanor Norton Holmes, Diane Nash, Joyce Ladner- and organizations- NAACP, SCLC, SNCC- which she helped to make. To be sure, Baker’s theory and principles of organizing, were decisive in organizing the civil rights movement.

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One Response to Kwanzaa and African American History

  1. twf on November 17, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    A part of black history is the story of Toussaint L’Ouverture from Haiti who fought against the French oppressors and the slave trade. A dramatized clip of his last moments in prison is found here: This is from the film “The Last Days of Toussaint L’Ouverture.”

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