African American History: A History of Contributions

African American History Month is a special time of the year. It’s a month of a daily and week-long activities that highlight the contributions and achievements of descendants of Africans in North America. The beauty of African American History month is that Carter G. Woodson the founder of Negro History Week that grew into African American or Black History Month is that he understood that we have a history to be proud of. Just recently in Bible Study we taught about the History of the Black Church and in that discussion, we talked about the institution of the Trans Atlanta Slave Trade and American Chattel Slavery.

In recent history there has been a nomenclature change in the language of how we describe our ancestors who were brought here as slave labor. Instead of calling the Africans who were brought here for free labor slaves, call them what they were, enslaved Africans. A slave is not a person, but a slave is a state of being imposed on someone. The word slave is a job description for an unwanted and payless job. When speaking of persons who were slaves its best to describe them as enslaved Africans. While some have not adopted this terminology it’s only a matter of time. It took some several generations to make the transition from the use of the terms Colored to Negro, Negro to black and from black to African American.

Each phrase or term represents a shift in consciousness of the descendants of enslaved Africans in America. The earlier terms were imposed on us. The latter two terms: black and African American were our way of naming and empowering ourselves. Naming and empowering ourselves just so happens to be one of the Kwanzaa Principles: Kujichagulia, Self-Determination.

Carter G. Woodson-Founder of Black History Month

Carter G. Woodson is to be commended for his vision. That we have African American History Month that was birthed out of the reality that we were being left out of American history speaks volumes. I used to teach African American History at Richland Community College. In our course we started with West African History and then eased into the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and then our sojourn to the America’s.

While the celebration of African American History month documents, records and tells the story of our contributions in America, it’s important that we know our history before Africans were enslaved and brought to the America’s. It’s hard to celebrate who we are if we don’t tell the whole story. Black History Month is a starting point that directs us to West Africa and eventually to Ethiopia, Egypt and the rest of the African continent.

There are several books we can read about our history. A good starting point would be the classical African American African Historians who laid the groundwork for our understanding of who we are and were before chains and shackles were placed around our legs and necks and brought to the Americas. The works of Chancellor Williams, John Henrik Clarke, John G. Jackson, and Yosef ben Jochannan are all people we should read. They helped a generation in America take Africa seriously. More academic historians like Ivan Van Sertima, Theophile Obenga and Dr. Cheika Anta Diop are part of the Mt. Rushmore of African Historians. Of course, we can’t leave out Basil Davidson a white British Writer and Historian who was a journalist, who did much to advance African History in the academy.

There are so many persons who have contributed to African and African American History. A good starting place for African American History would be to pick up a book on African American inventors. Inventions by African Americans display the impact African Americans have had on American culture. Lastly, we can never say enough about Carter G. Woodson’s The Mis-Education of the Negro. That book was written in 1933 and remains relevant in 2023.

The most important thing is to pick a book and start reading. The beauty of reading and studying history is that we find that we are all connected as part of the larger human family.

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