BY JOHN L. HORTON
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” — Marcus Garvery
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” — Barack Obama
This piece is an extended and comprehensive “ black history,” covering over 2,000 years and beyond…from Africa to the Americas.
This piece tells an excellent “story” for the New Year and/or Black History Month.
As such, it gives me an excellent opportunity to share some of my journey and experience with others.
I have been a student (60 years) and teacher (40 years) of black history. Over the years, I have taught innumerable classes, workshops, clinics and programs for a diverse and myriad population.
Since I am in my twilight years, I have decided to share my knowledge and insight with your readers and interested others.
Accordingly, I have written a comprehensive and concise narrative covering this unique and special history.
Although my writing is a synopsis and snapshot overview in many respects, it is simultaneously substantive and sustaining, too.
In essence, I feel strongly that my “story” of black history is more relevant and needed than ever before.
With the New Year and Black History Month upon us, its timing and impact could not be more apropos.
Therefore, I wish to share my “story” at this time and this place.
WE ARE the children and descendants of the great African empires of Mali, Songhay and Old Ghana.
We are Estevanico, an African who accompanied Spanish explorers through the Arizona and New Mexico territories in 1538.
We are the slave Phillis Wheatley, who in the 1770s wrote poetry that has been read throughout the world.
We are Jean Point du Sable, a Negro trader who founded and helped to settle Chicago in 1779.
We are 5,000 slaves and free blacks who served in the Continental Army and Navy between 1776 and 1781.
We are black abolitionists Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, and rebel slaves Denmark Vesey, Gabriel Prosser and Nat Turner.
We are the black scout George W. Bush, who led white settlers into the Oregon Territory in 1844.
We are James Beckwourth, Nat Love and countless other black cowboys, pioneers, settlers, and “buffalo soldiers,” who helped to scout and settle the Old West during the mid-late 1800s.
We are the many countless and faceless blacks who served with distinction and honor in the Union Army during the Civil War.
We are Jan Matzelinger, who in 1883 invented the first machine that manufactured an entire shoe.
We are Daniel Hale Williams, who in 1893 was the first licensed physician to perform successful open-heart surgery.
We are Mathew Henson, who accompanied Commander Robert E. Peary on his North Pole expedition in 1909.
We are Madam C. J. Walker (Sarah Breedlove), entrepreneur and philanthropist and the first female self-made millionaire in America.
We are George Washington Carver, who developed over 300 products from the peanut and sweet potato, and who is the first African American to have a National Memorial. (Diamond, Missouri; July 14, 1943).
We are the budding legends and giants of the Black Renaissance during the 1920s through the 1940s: James Weldon Johnson, Richard Wright, Paul Robeson, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Josephine Baker, Bessie Smith, Lena Horne, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Mahalia Jackson, Marian Anderson, Hattie McDaniel, among others.
We are Mary Jane McLeod Bethune, educator and civil rights leader, who co-founded Bethune-Cookman College (Daytona Beach, Fla., 1941), and was a charter member of FDR’s “Black Cabinet.”
We are Dorie Miller, American hero of World War II who shot down four Japanese planes at Pearl Harbor in 1941.
We are Ralph Bunche, first black to be awarded a doctorate in political science at Harvard University, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize as a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations in 1950.
We are some of the black legends and superstars of the modern sports world: Jack Johnson, Jesse Owens, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Rafer Johnson, Wilma Rudolph, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Charles Sifford, Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, among others.
We are Emmett Louis Till, African-American, 14-year-old teenager, who was lynched on August 28, 1955, in Money, Mississippi, after reportedly flirting with a white woman.
We are the four black North Carolina A&T college students (David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr., and Joseph McNeil) who sat down at the lunch counter inside the Woolworth Store in Greensboro, N.C. on February 1, 1960.
We are the four black girls (Addie Mae Collins, 14; Cynthia Wesley, 11; Carole Robertson, 14; and Carol Denise McNair, 14), who were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963.
We are Mildred Loving, a black woman who was banished from Virginia for marrying a white man (Richard Loving), whose landmark Supreme Court ruling led to overturning state miscegenation laws on June 12, 1967.
We are Edward Brooke from Massachusetts, the first black person since Reconstruction to be elected to the U.S. Senate, (Republican, January 3, 1967 – January 3, 1979)
We are Thurgood Marshall, former U.S. solicitor general and the first black to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, October 1967 – October 1991.
We are Shirley Chisholm, U.S. representative from Brooklyn, the first black to formally run for president, in 1972.
We are the several hundreds of thousands of African-American men who participated in the Million Man March on the National Mall, in Washington, D.C., on October 16, 1995.
We are the several hundreds of thousands of African-American women who participated in the Million Women March on the Benjamin Franklin Park Way in Philadelphia, PA., on October 25, 1997.
We are the hundreds and thousands of African-American architects, inventors, engineers, aviators, scientists, physicians, lawyers, educators, politicians, activists, preachers, entrepreneurs, actors, media personalities, government officials, military leaders, and important others who have made significant and lasting contributions to all mankind.
We are Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, A. Philip Randolph, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Whitney Young Jr., Roy Wilkins, Barbara Jordan, Patricia Harris, Coretta Scott King, Ralph Abernathy, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, and other names forever enshrined in memory and history.
We are our ancestors and forebears of times past; we are our men and women of today; we are our boys and girls of tomorrow. We are a beautiful and noble people.
We are a vehicle of heritage, culture and pride on a journey of love, understanding and acceptance. Yes, that is who we are.