Living History

“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”
Carter G Woodson

“Imagine a world in which people like you have no written history, or that which has been written is incomplete or distorted. Before Dr. Carter Goodwin Woodson (1875-1950) began his work, there was very little information, and much of that stereotypical misinformation, about the lives and history of Americans of African descent.”

What we now call Black History Month was originated in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson as Negro History Week. The month of February was selected in deference to Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln who were born in that month. In 1976, this celebration was expanded to include the entire month of February, and today, Black History Month garners support throughout the country as people of all ethnic and social backgrounds discuss the black experience. But there is also criticism by some who say that Black History Month’s time has come and gone.

I recall growing up in the 1960’s when Black History was not part of school curriculum other than the scourge of slavery and its impact on our nation.

The Civil Rights Movement was still being played out at the workplace, lunch counters and voting booths. Dr. King and Coretta were alive; now years later, looking back on that time, we were living history. Watching it playing out on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

As a paper boy my route consisted of fraternity row and most of the residential Syracuse University hill area. One day as I approached my last paper drop at a fraternity house I was stopped at the door I usually entered where two students were blocking the television, a third said, “you really shouldn’t see this.”

But it was too late. Images of blacks being fire hosed and having vicious police dogs yanking at their calves and legs; I knew they were trying to protect me from seeing what was unfolding on the news that night. But I already knew, I’d been “down south” I heard of stories involving the Klan, separate but equal education and black men being literally driven out of town for the crime of looking at a white woman.

If you lived here in the 1970s who could forget channel 3’s story about clubs like Night Deposit, Pegasus and others who were actively discriminating against black people. Once they (the club) reached their “quota” blacks were routinely turned away. And don’t ask a bouncer a question at one of these joints. A friend who was an Ithaca College senior at the time was to meet me at the old Lost Horizon, she arrived and was denied entry due to her college I.D., which was the same as mine. When I asked why she was denied entry I was lifted by both arms and removed.

I wasn’t the only one, it became a group of us home from college on break who didn’t have the right to enter a stupid night club. So, the next break, a group of us went to the local NAACP and asked then President Tommy Blunt to stand up and say and/or do something! We were then told, “We have more important things to do in this community than to argue for the right to party.”

I grew up in Syracuse, a community that hailed its mayor as a charismatic hero while we were systematically denying opportunity to African-Americans in Police Officer and Firefighter positions. As an African-American you grew up knowing that your school isn’t as nice as the schools in the “better” neighborhoods. I also remember arriving at Grant Jr. High School being greeted by “northsiders” a couple of them had belts wrapped around their hands as they watched us get off the bus, “go home, nigger” they shouted. (Wasn’t busing sweet!)

Much of what we witnessed from the Civil Rights Movement will never appear in anyone’s curricula.