Tuesday, February 01, 2011

February - Black History Month

Several years ago I realized that my knowledge of history was pathetic. Answer to problem: Study. In so doing, I found that much history is not taught and, therefore, even those who knew more than me had gaps in their understanding of our nation.

Case in point: Black History Month started in February 1926. I have known for years that the US began observing this month to acknowledge Black people and their culture. I personally did not pay much attention to it because I saw no need to set a month aside for just one segment on our nation. We are a melting pot after all.

In reviewing my history, however, I have changed my mind. Our history books have ignored too much Black history. So, I have determined that this month I will share a little of what I’ve learned. I will try to be brief - to encourage you to come back for more.

A good place to begin is with the Constitution and that horrible three-fifths clause. I had not completely understood why this was a good thing. Sounded like the document was saying that a black person was only three-fifths of a person. In fact, Frederick Douglass, a slave who had escaped to New York, believed that the Constitution was a pro-slavery document and indicated so in his writings and speeches.

After researching the subject, reading the Constitution and the writings of those who wrote the Constitution, Douglass concluded that it “contained principles and purposes entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.” The writers included this clause in an effort to keep the pro-slavery states from gaining overwhelming power in the House of Representatives. (If all of the slaves had been counted, the pro-slavery states would have greatly increased their representation without giving the slaves a voice.) The three-fifths clause was an anti-slavery provision.

So, even at the time of the writing of the Constitution, misunderstandings about the intent of the Founders existed. Frederick Douglass helped to clarify their intent and fight for freedom for all.

Douglass worked for New York’s anti-slavery society and served as preacher at Zion Methodist Church. He helped recruit the first black regiment to fight for the Union. Following the Civil War, Republican Presidents Grant, Hayes and Garfield honored him with Presidential appointments. Democratic President Cleveland removed him from office, but Republican President Harrison reappointed him.

Frederick Douglass also published his own newspaper and fought for women’s rights. After many more years in public service, Douglass died of a massive heart attack at the age of 77.

We need to observe Black History month not only to preserve knowledge of the accomplishments of Frederick Douglass and other hard working individuals like him, but also to understand the role that individuals and parties in our government played in their journey to freedom and equality.

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