Lincoln, Lies and Black Liberation
It is recorded that one of the reasons why February was chosen as Black History Month was because it is the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the man who is glorified in history as the one who "freed the slaves." Unfortunately, this is just one of many myths about the black experience that is often repeated but rarely challenged. This is an especially important issue in 2011, as we see black history becoming increasingly, "politicized."
We live in a political climate where the truth about the African American experience has either been ignored by the main stream media or obscured by false Right Wing talking points. Instead of the truth, we are fed a hodgepodge of myths, fables and pseudo-historical hogwash.
One of the most propagated myths is that African Americans had no history worth mentioning before they were brought to America in the hulls of slave ships. This lie could not be further from the truth as scholars such as George GM James, Anthony Browder and Dr. Yosef ben Jochannan have all done extensive research proving not only the existence of powerful ancient African societies but also that what is known as Greek culture was actually stolen from the ancient Egyptians who were Black people.
Also, there are the many falsehoods surrounding chattel slavery. Every time the issue of black history is brought up, you can bet that some conservative pundit will parrot the oft repeated talking point that "it was Africans who sold your ancestors into slavery." Like most right wing rhetoric, the devil is in the details.
According to historian Basil Davidson, in his book " the African Slave Trade, " African slavery was not much different than the feudal system of medieval Europe. Other scholars have noted that that even the very concept of enslaving another people because of racial superiority was foreign to African culture. In his book "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa," Walter Rodney wrote that the Africans could not fathom the idea that the Europeans "had come to stay ,permanently" nor that they "were out to conquer, not some, but all of Africa."
There is also the long standing legend of the docile slave that would have been happier staying on the plantation picking cotton than enjoying Freedom. Contrary to popular belief, slave insurrections were a grave concern for plantation owners in the South, especially following the Haitian Revolution of Toussaint L'Ouverture , as many slave owners feared that the uprising in Haiti would inspire the enslaved Africans in America to rebel.
Another myth is that African Americans should be eternally grateful to the great Republican Honest Abe Lincoln for "freeing us." In his work "Forced Into Glory" Lerone Bennett, portrays Lincoln as a wishy -washy political opportunist whose Emancipation Proclamation was merely a ploy to stifle the proposed Confiscation Acts which would have "freed" the slaves years earlier. Also, it must be noted that Lincoln's much heralded "Emancipation Proclamation" did not "free all slaves" just the ones in states rebelling against the Union which did not include the border states. Although Lincoln is often portrayed as a friend of black folks, according to Bennett he believed in the inferiority of black people and was fond of telling "anti-Negro jokes."
Following, the end of chattel slavery in America, came the misunderstood period of Reconstruction. While it is often portrayed as a period of black political corruption, according to WEB Dubois, in his work, "Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880" the black politicians were no more "corrupt" than their white counterparts and the misinformation concerning black historical facts was "often a deliberate attempt to change the facts of history that the story will make pleasant reading for Americans." This, unfortunately, laid the foundation for unfair criticisms of African American politicians that plague this country today, including the not -so -subtle attacks on President Barack Obama.
Lastly, one of the falsehoods that is still propagated by the right wing is that African American leaders are overly dependent upon government handouts. This is patently false, as one could point to leaders such as Booker T. Washington (the Tuskegee Machine), the Honorable Marcus Garvey (Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League) and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad (The Nation of Islam) all of whom preached a doctrine of black economic empowerment and self-sufficiency.
The best way for African Americans to celebrate Black History Month, this year, is to challenge the historical inaccuracies about our history. This must be done, if not for ourselves, for our children, who are constantly given negative information regarding their ancestors.
As Malcolm X once said, "of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research."
In this case, the reward is the sense of positive self identification for future generations of black children.
Paul Scott is a minister, activist and writer based in Durham NC. His blog is No Warning Shots Fired.com. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (919) 451-8283