The Untold Story of Black History Month

BLACKNESS FOR A LIFETIME - FB BANNER 2018

Dr. Carter G. Woodson created Negro History Week back in 1926, when he was living in Washington, D.C. Negro History Week was originally celebrated during the 2nd week in February, in recognition of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays. Dr. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History promoted the week in order to counteract the inaccurate portrayals of Black people that were common in the news, school textbooks and within the scholarly community.

Twenty years after the death of Dr. Woodson, in 1950, Black students and administrators, at Kent State University, felt Black history was still important and took it upon themselves to shine the spotlight on it for an entire month. Black History Month was put on the official calendar of the university in 1969 by Dean Milton Wilson, thus becoming Dean Wilson’s brainchild. However, it was Dr. Edward W. Crosby who gave birth to it and presented it to the world. From the start he knew it was insufficient. For a good 20 years the bulletin board in the Center of Pan-African Culture at Kent was emblazoned with the motto, “Blackness not for a month, but for a lifetime!!!”

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Black identity has been an issue ever since first contact with White people in Southern Europe, over 2,000 years ago. All kinds of words have been used to describe African people. Typically, these names were related to the dark skin of the African peoples of the world. To this day Black people are variously described as Ethiopians, Negroes, Colored people, people of color, Niggers, Negritos, Moors, Sudanese and Black. When Negro History Week was created the word Negro, Spanish for black, was considered to be a radical term that people fought to have capitalized. By the 1960’s Negro was considered to be out of fashion. Up until the 60’s calling someone Black was as bad as calling them a nigger is today.

When Black History Month was first celebrated it was radical, because it not only expanded the length of the celebration, it also embraced what up until that point had been the most obvious trait and in some ways the most hated feature of African people.

The story of the first Black History Month celebration has never been told before. Even though Black History Month has gone far beyond the walls of Kent State University. It’s found on every calendar produced in the U.S. and is even celebrated internationally. Nearly 50 years after the 1st celebration Black History Month is still controversial. The validity of Black History Month, it’s relevance; even it’s placement in February, the shortest month of the year, have all been called into question.

Many people question its celebration in February, the shortestDR CROSBY & DR WILSON & NAME TAG month of the year? Some feel that Black History should be celebrated every day; while others question why celebrate it at all, because Black History is American history, or is it? I’m sure if Dr. Woodson were alive he’d agree with some of these arguments. Yes, Black History should be celebrated every day, but in the world we live in that has yet to happen. Even though school textbooks mention the contributions of African people, here and abroad, more and more; teachers often do not feel comfortable with the material and skip over those sections of the books, altogether. Forty eight years after the 1st Black History Month was celebrated, Black history is still nothing more than a footnote, an add on, a jumble of interesting facts and notable dates in American history, as opposed to a staple in elementary/secondary curriculum. Today, Black history month is often no more than a celebration of the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King, with little to no mention of the contributions of others, before, during or after the 1960’s. Even the best case scenario limits Black History Month presentations to mention of some standard bearers that have long since died and can no longer speak for themselves; like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. Funnily, the truth is there’s much more to Black history that has yet to be unearthed and rediscovered than could be placed in any one textbook.

 

 

 

Ohio’s Black Athletes: 10 Years in the Making

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When I first started working with children nearly 40 years ago, focusing on sports was inconceivable. My attitude was that we focused too much on sports and too little on math, reading and writing. I felt we needed to focus on the “essentials” and African culture. Reading, writing and arithmetic are still important, as tools to understanding the world. African culture is still important, but not to the point where we overlook what we’ve done right here, in our neighborhoods. Art, athletics and aesthetics are also important, not just for the elite, but for everyone. For it is through these seemingly unimportant activities that we learn about the world, our place in it and learn to love life, in all its facets.

Ohio’s Black Athletes is a multimedia project that has been in the making for 10 years now. We’re just starting to hit our stride, after updating our original materials, repackaging, revising and testing everything we’ve created, over the last ten years. We’re finally ready to present these materials to the public as a “finished product.”

Forty years ago I scoured the country looking for curriculum materials that were truly relevant to our children. The best I could come up with were products that met 1-2 criteria, but inevitably fell short. Over the years we created some tools that could be used in the classroom, but they still were not comprehensive in scope or impact.

In 2006 I was asked to return to Ohio to work as a curriculum specialist for the Ida B. Wells Community Academy, Akron’s 1st African centered charter school. For the second time in my life I ended up as the principal/CEO of an educational organization, within 2 months of my arrival here. This was not my intent and it hurt the school in a number of ways, because it meant I was unable to focus on creating a comprehensive curriculum. Most of my days and nights were tied up dealing with bureaucratic necessities, school discipline and board meetings.

It wasn’t until the demise of the school a year later that I was free to focus on what really mattered, a comprehensive curriculum designed for local youth. Ohio’s Black Athletes is not the completion of this project. It’s the first step in creating a curriculum that is relevant, engaging and inspirational for young people everywhere, but particularly in NE Ohio.

Blakfacts curriculum materials go far beyond what most people think of as African centered curricula. The Blakfacts curriculum is the first of its kind, a truly comprehensive, Pan-African curriculum that covers every topic imaginable, with biographies of notable individuals, organizations and movements throughout history. Our introductory materials focus on math, sports and Pan-African history for children with little to no ability to read. As they progress through the materials and become more familiar with the written word, they are introduced to the movers and shakers of the Pan-African world, basic scientific concepts and important ideas that have shaped the world and our view of it.

As we are inundated with daily new stories of scandals, racism and violence it’s important for the youth to know there’s more than one way of looking at the world. Being able to understand someone else’s point of view will be critical in the years to come, as the world becomes more and more polarized and the views of the minority become those of the majority. We hope to see Blakfacts curricula play a role in making the world a better place for everyone.

 

Halloween: A Day of Celebration or Devilment?

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     Halloween is coming up in another week. I wonder how many of us will be celebrating and why? Is it just for the candy, or is there something about Halloween that speaks to our nature? Personally, I gave it up long ago, without any fanfare. In my youth I recall going door to door and begging for sweet treats. I also remember having so many treats I couldn’t eat them all in a year, so I always had a bunch left over.
     It wasn’t until long after I’d already stopped eating candy and celebrating the holiday that I came across the book by Rev. Ishakamusa Barashango, on African People and European Holidays. This book opened my eyes to the origins, not only of Halloween, but Christmas, as well. By the time I read it, I had already stopped celebrating both holidays. In the case of Christmas, my whole family stopped celebrating Christmas when we started celebrating Kwanzaa, in the early 70’s.
     Although, some people, like televangelist Pat Robertson have labeled Halloween a 5111Egp8RfL._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_pagan holiday dedicated to Satan, the fact of the matter is it’s actually a Christian holiday. While it’s roots may lie in “pagan” rituals of the ancient druids and other pre-Christian sects, it is as Christian as Lent. Don’t take my word for it, look it up. It was originally called All Hallows Eve and is the day before All Saints Day. Originally it was more like a day to revere ones ancestors and included candle lit ceremonies and overnight stays in cemeteries.
     American commercialism turned it into a day to binge on sugary treats. Likewise, Saint Patty’s Day, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Christmas have been commercialized in similar fashion, with costumes, candy, gluttony and intoxication becoming the hall marks of each holiday. In America this is how holidays are celebrated. Even Kwanzaa, an original Black holiday, has not been able to avoid blatant attempts to Americanize/commercialize it. 
     As this holiday season fast approaches, I wonder who will continue to blindly “celebrate” America’s favorite holidays and who will decide to engage in more meaningful practices, meant to uplift and energize the Black family? Some of the most meaningful lessons our children will learn are wrapped up in the celebration or rejection of these American holidays. I advise everyone that decides to continue celebrating them to do a little research and learn more about what’s actually being celebrated.
     I’m sure most people are unaware of one of the most important parts of the Christmas celebrations of Europe, which include Krampus and his Krewe of demons and devils. I wonder how many people are aware of the origins of many of the characters included in the Halloween menagerie? What are our children learning when we dress them up as clowns? Who are the Bozo people? Why does Bozo have such big feet, large nose, wild hair, big lips and funny looking hair and why is he in whiteface?

Got a story to tell? Let us know!

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We’re hard at work documenting Akron’s Black history. Black history is being made and documented every day. Our job is to find it and put it into a format that makes it accessible, memorable and useful to students from 8-80.

Our publications a number of interactive books for children, college level books for secondary and collegiate study, trading cards for all ages and all kinds of video recordings, from instructional videos to interviews, performances and speeches.

The curriculum of the future is here. Blakfacts Educational Research, Inc. (BER) set out to create a comprehensive curriculum tailor made for students in NE Ohio, particularly Akron, OH. Our multicultural curriculum is innovative, interactive and interesting to students of all ages. This unique curriculum is beyond the planning stage, but remains incomplete. There’s still much more to be done. We’ve been able to lay the groundwork and have created a model upon which to build. Now what we need is your input and support.

Although our curriculum was created with residents of Akron in mind, it’s not limited to Akron alone. Our primary multi-volume series, Ohio’s Black Athletes, includes athletes from all over NE Ohio, as well as athletes from central and southern Ohio, in order to represent as many sports as possible.

We’re currently in the processing of expanding our focus to include many more women. For the most part women have been locked out of professional sports, which has made it very difficult to find female athletes to feature in our publications. So far, we have been able to find one professional, female fastpitch softball player, race car driver, hockey player, golfer, baton twirler and world class track star. Recently, we stumbled upon some female WNBA stars, gymnasts and tennis players, but it’s been a real slog, because of the lack of information that has been compiled. If you know of someone who should be featured in our publications, please let us know. In the end you are our most valuable resource.

 

Fundraising for Ohio’s Black Athletes: Multimedia Production

Blakfacts Educational Research, Inc., a 501 c3 corporation, will begin its 1st fundraising campaign on GoFundMe.com beginning on November 1st, 2017 through November 31st, 2017. Our goal is to raise $35,000 in order to take Ohio’s Black Athletes, our 1st multimedia production to the next level, which will include videotaping interviews of featured individuals, the creation of slideshows for those who cannot be interviewed, and the production and distribution of thousands of books to be distributed at no cost to children all over the state of Ohio.

This project began 10 years ago with a request from a local elementary school principal to create some original, culturally relevant materials for his school. Stewart Africentric was the only public school in Akron, Ohio with an African centered curriculum. At the time of the original request they had been in operation for about 7 years.

The idea was to create books for their annual Black Academic Challenge contest, which was held for about 4 years, during Black History Month, with schools from all over the district and even some outside of the district. We originally envisioned creating books on local African American religious leaders, athletes, business people, politicians and entertainers. I decided to start with athletes, because my initial research indicated there weren’t very many of them, so I could complete it in a couple of months and move on. This turned out to be very inaccurate.

After researching African American athletes from Akron and beyond I’ve learned a few things. Number one, there are a lot more notable athletes from Akron/NE Ohio than I could have imagined. Number two, an athletic career is typically not a lifelong avocation, therefore many politicians, religious leaders, business people, etc. are very likely to have played sports in their younger days. In documenting this one aspect of African American life I’ve been able to document much of the history of African Americans in the area.

My primary resources were Dr. Shirla McClain, the Akron Beacon Journal working library, as well as the libraries of Kent State, Summit County, Stow Munroe Falls and Case Western Reserve Historic Society Archives. Most people don’t usually credit Amazon.com as a resource, but they have been an invaluable resource in tracking down books that could not be found in local libraries or archival collections.

The project has been expanded, over the years, from focusing on elementary school books, to include a college edition. Our newest addition, is a series of collectible trading cards, featuring 15 athletes who made a name for themselves playing sports in Ohio; as well as Dr. Shirla McClain, who documented The Contributions of Blacks in Akron, 1825-1975. Featured athletes will include the likes of Paul Robeson, Moses Fleetwood Walker, LeBron James, Nate Thurmond, Rev. Ronald Fowler, William Suddeth, Gus Johnson, Renee Powell and Billy Ray Thunder.

Our goal is to inspire the youth to excel in sports, as they learn how to turn athletic success into success in life. Many of the youth of today are focused like a laser beam on athletics, while academic excellence is looked upon as something foreign. This project seeks to set the record straight by showing the connection between the two.

This project has been self-funded up to this point. Now we’re asking the public to chip in with charitable donations.

 

Moses Fleetwood Walker finally has his day

MOSES FLEETWOOD WALKER CARD 2017

Akron City Councilman, Russ Neal recently proposed the creation of a new holiday, which would replace the Oct. 12 holiday honoring Christopher Columbus, with a day honoring America’s Indigenous People. I’d venture to say, most Americans look at Christopher Columbus as a hero, because of his courageous search for a new route to India. However, many people have a very different view of him, because of the cruelties he personally inflicted on the native people’s of America. Suffice it to say, this resolution is as of yet, unresolved. The Italian community came out in force to support their hero.

Meanwhile, House Bill 59, which was sponsored by Ohio State Reps. David Leland (D., Toledo) and Thomas West (D., Canton) was recently signed into law, making October 7th Moses Fleetwood Walker Day.  It was the third attempt to get the bill passed by the Ohio legislature and old Fleet did not disappoint. Just one more home run for Fleet Walker.

If you ask the average man on the street who were the earliest African Americans to play major league baseball, the answer will typically be Jackie Robinson. What is virtually never mentioned is why there was a colorline in the first place.

Racism is a belief system that defies logic and requires the suspension of reality, in order to exist. Fleetwood Walker, his brother Welday Walker and other early African American ball players came with the real, every day. They exhibited their prowess on the ballfield, right alongside White ballplayers. If they had been inferior players, there would have been no reason to have a colorline, in the first place. It would have been a moot question. First and foremost, who would want to pay them top dollar to compete against some of the 19th century’s best players, like Cap Anson, who outright refused to play with Fleetwood on the field?

Not only could these men play ball with the best of them, they were also exemplary men, in a rough and tumble sport that was replete with hooliganism. Both Fleetwood and his brother graduated from an integrated high school in Steubenville, Ohio during the late 1870’s. They also attended Oberlin College and the University of Michigan together, with the elder Fleetwood leading the way.

At the time baseball was becoming America’s foremost pastime, Fleetwood was a superior hitter and catcher. Without the benefit of a proper glove or protective equipment, like our modern-day players, Fleetwood sustained many injuries. Racism came into play here, as well, because one pitcher, in particular, objected to a Black man signaling him what pitch to throw. In spite of everything, Fleetwood was a valued member of every club he joined.

He played pro ball, exclusively on integrated teams, from 1883 to 1889, beginning with the Toledo Blue Stockings and ending with The Syracuse Stars. By the time he was released from the Stars, segregated leagues had already sprung up. He had no interest in playing Negro League ball. Over the years he invested much of his money to a number of entrepreneurial ventures. Once his playing days were behind him he decided to pursue these other interests full time.

His brother ended up joining him in some of his new enterprises, which included the promotion of a plan to leave the United States, in search of a better life on the African continent. Moses had come full circle, joining the likes of Bishop Henry McNeil Turner and other prominent African Americans in seeking a solution to America’s “race problem” in faraway Africa.

As far as I know, neither of them ever made it to the Motherland. Fleetwood took his final breath on May 11th, 1924. His was a life well lived, with many accomplishments to his name, including the patenting of 4 of his ideas, proprietorship of a number of ventures, including an Opera House and a newspaper. He died the same way he lived, with dignity and style, unmatched by many of his fiercest opponents. Let us remember the life of Moses Fleetwood Walker, for he deserves more than one minute of recognition. He deserves a day of his own.