By Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq.

January 31, 2014

TriceEdney – People my age, and many younger, remember the verbal admonishment from their elders, “Child, you’d better learn your lessons.”  That admonishment was rooted in the belief that education was the gateway to personal success.  It reinforced the understanding that circumstances are introduced to guide and influence you to specific purposes.  Those lessons, along with books and writings, shaped understanding and appreciation of OUR African-American History.
Our rich culture and history is a shared experience that has survived trials and tests historically unrivaled in length or brutality.  To those willing to listen and learn, OUR history’s character and strength became the foundation for values used to chart our path to the future.  Despite critics, African-American History Month provides an opportunity to review, reaffirm and rededicate ourselves to the lessons of OUR history and plan OUR future.
Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, Father of Negro History, was prophetic in the lessons and admonitions he left.  Woodson understood the relationship between knowledge, self-esteem and personal accomplishment.  He offered observations that are as valid and important for racial survival now as they were when first spoken.
His thinking is clearly summarized in his statement, “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”  He added, “Those who have no record of what their forbears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”
Weighing this important statement, I often wonder why many have neglected these lessons of our history and failed their duty to pass this information to our youth.  My hope is that lines of African-American visitors will form outside of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture (opening in 2015) in lengths as great as those routinely found at the Holocaust Museum.  

Accordingly, it’s time to acknowledge and demand recognition of the African-American holocaust in this nation.  Doing this, we acknowledge and honor the challenges and experiences we’ve overcome.  This understanding clarifies Dr. King’s 1963 demand for America to “cash the check” owed us.
Dr. Woodson gave us keys to self-autonomy and control when he said, “If the Negro in the ghetto must eternally be fed by the hand that pushes him into the ghetto, he will never become strong enough to get out of the ghetto.”  And, “When you control a (hu)man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his (her) actions.”  Until these warnings are heeded, OUR communities will remain subject to negative external and internal influences.
Ever the master educator, Woodson understood the impact of negative information on the mind and personal performance.  He spoke of our mis-education when he said, “This crusade is much more important than the anti-lynching movement, because there would be no lynching if it did not start in the schoolroom.”  He added, “The thought of the inferiority of the Negro is drilled into him in almost every class he enters and in almost every book he studies…to handicap a student by teaching him that his black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worse sort of lynching.”
Many of us have failed or forgotten lessons of our history.  Neither we nor our children are well-served by this breakdown.  We once allowed “outsiders” to create images of our humanity or, more commonly, perceptions of our inhumanity.  Recently, erroneously excused by claims of “keeping it real,” many of us have recreated an array of these negative self-images as damaging as those of the minstrel era.
Thinking about OUR future possibilities and liabilities, I cannot escape the Santayana truism that “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Dr. E. Faye Williams is National Chair of the National Congress of Black Women, 202/678-6788,

Karen McRae

Leave a Comment