In high school, I once did a few short documentaries for Black History Month. One was on Harriet Tubman and the other on Rock N Roll. I won a few humble academic awards as a result. What I would do to have a copy of them now. Anyways, since then I have been especially interested in African American history. My love for history eventually led to me receiving a minor in history, and the creation of multiple websites, where I have self-published my research for others to enjoy. So, I’m inclined to give you my opinion on why Black History month is important for us to celebrate as a unified nation. If you’re a closet racist, feel free to stop reading right now.
Dating back to Jamestown, Virginia in the early 1600s—over 150 years prior to the Declaration of Independence—Africans were brought to America and immediately began playing a critical role in building this nation. To give you a glimpse of how important these first Africans were, the famous leader of the Jamestown community and mentor to Pocahontas, John Smith, had become so gravely concerned with the settlers laziness and the small villages ability to sustain itself; he issued a warning to the citizens, “He that will not worke shall not eate (Goldfield, et al., 2013).” The folks from England were not used to hard labor in the summer and would have rather starved to death than work hard enough to feed themselves.
Winters were terribly harsh and killed off many. Starvation was so bad even cannibalism become a problem in 1609 (Zabarenko, 2013). The importance of the arrival of slaves–forced to do the labor necessary for the early settlements to grow–cannot be understated. Tobacco allowed the colonies to create wealth (Foner, 2014). As ships poured in with more Africans and unwanted vagabonds from Europe called indentured servants, the colonies quickly grew class distinctions. You had the Plantation owners and then everyone else. The Haves and the Have Nots.
Generally speaking, prior to 1675, African Americans were set free and/or allowed to work to save money for their freedom almost no different than white folks. It was not uncommon for a black man to gain his freedom and buy slaves himself. Then in 1676, a frontiersman named Nathaniel Bacon become frustrated with the Governor of Virginia for his soft policy regarding the Native Americans, and the general ignorance of the elite class to regular folk problems. Bacon led an armed rebellion that included people of ALL races, poor folks, slaves and indentured servants alike. It was a rebellion we often overlook and should be seen by people as a critical turning point in American History.
After the rebellion, Bacon died from a virus and many of his rebels were hung (Schweikart & Allen, 2007). Black slaves were known to run off with Native Americans. This set the stage, for the ruling class to find a way to split the have nots and so they began to use race as their tool to do so. It becomes much harder for African slaves to gain freedom, and laws were passed that made it illegal to teach them to read or write. Over time, the policies on slaves become much harder than the policies put on the whites, changing the way poor white folks seen slaves (Morgan, 1975). They went from partners against the ruling class “remarkably unconcerned about the visible physical differences (Stampp)” to people who see skin color as a dividing trait on the social food chain.
By creating laws that made it more difficult for slaves to gain their freedom by saving money, by creating laws against slaves learning to read and write, and by making laws that made the punishments worse for slaves that ran away, the ruling class gave white indentured servants and poor folks a false sense of importance and superiority. This in combination with fear mongering, regarding slave revolts, over the course of decades, white supremacy emerged. American racism was born.
As this nation grew in wealth, it built an infrastructure that relied almost totally on the backs of Black Americans. Not only did generations of slaves toil in plantation fields growing the purses of their masters, but they also laid the bricks for the schools, civic buildings, churches and houses that sprung up everywhere from the investments of those purses, including the Nation’s Capital Building and the White House itself (Archives, 2000). An entire economic system was built upon slavery and its largest industry was by far the buying and selling of human beings (Zinn, 2003). It wasn’t until the industrial revolution made slave labor somewhat obsolete in the north, did we see people begin to fight for real human equality in the United States.
African Americans built our nation with their hands as much as they have shaped it with their hearts and minds. So, the next time you hear some ignorant person ask,” why don’t white people get a month to celebrate?” You can remind them that white people played an important intellectual role in building this nation and that our calendar is filled with days paying homage to them for it (the 4th of July, Memorials Day, Veterans Day, Presidents Day etc…) but that Black Americans literally built this nation with their blood, sweat, and tears. Remind them of the centuries they spent in bondage as human chattels, forced to the bidding of masters made up almost entirely of a different race.
Black History is about memorializing the black ancestors that sacrificed their lives for this nation, it’s not about picking favorites between human beings that are alive today. History has a weird way of being indisputable in most cases. Facts are facts. And the fact is if it weren’t for African Americans our white ancestors would have died at Jamestown because they were too lazy to hunt and farm for enough food to keep from starving.
I am by no means saying white people did not contribute to pioneering this great nation, they did, and many struggled in poverty without the help of slaves. However, I am saying this nation would not even have gotten up off the ground if it were not for our African American ancestors. They played an irreplaceable part in building the United States of America. That… Is worth celebrating. That… Is why we celebrate Black History Month.
#Celebrate #BlackHistoryMonth #BlackHistory
Archives, N. (2000, December 29). National Archives to Display Pay Stubs of Slaves Used to Build U.S. Capitol and White House. Retrieved from National Archives: https://www.archives.gov/press/press-releases/2001/nr01-30.html
Foner, E. (2014). Give Me Liberty: An American History. In A Tobacco Colony (p. 61). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Goldfield, Abbot, Anderson, Argersinger, Argersinger, Barney, & Weir. (2013). The American Journey. In Transplantation (p. 37). New Baskerville: Prentice Hall Pearson.
Morgan, E. (1975). American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Schweikart, & Allen. (2007). A Patriots History of the United States. In Bacons Rebellion (p. 21). New York: The Penguin Group.
Stampp, K. (n.d.). The Pecuilar Institution . New York: Knopf.
Zabarenko, D. (2013, May 1). Starving Virginia settlers turned to cannibalism in 1609: study. Retrieved from Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cannibalism-jamestown/starving-virginia-settlers-turned-to-cannibalism-in-1609-study-idUSBRE9400UY20130501
Zinn, H. (2003). The Peoples History of the United States. In Drawing the Color Line (p. 32). New York: Harpers Collins.