Black History Month:Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
By CaribbeanTales Staff
| Posted: January 01, 2006
A few months ago, on the CBS TV show Sixty Minutes, actor Morgan Freeman told a (strangely) astonished Mike Wallace that he was opposed to Black History Month. He went on to say that Black history was American history, so it should be celebrated on every day of every month in every year. He felt strongly that by consigning Black history only to the month of February, Anerica continued to mirror the ongoing separation of Black folks from mainstream society.
We agree with Morgan Freeman. And encouraged by his conviction as well as by the memory of George Santayana’s wise words that “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, CaribbeanTales staff set about researching the history of Black History Month. How did this phenomenon come about?
We found out that it was the brainchild of Carter Godwin Woodson who originally established it in 1926 in America, as Negro History Week. And who was Woodson? He was the son of a slave, born in America in 1875, who began high school at the age of twenty and then went on to study at the University of Chicago, ending up at Harvard University with a Ph.D. in 1912. He believed that Blacks in America should know their past in order to participate intelligently in civic affairs. He selected February in deference to Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln who were both born in that month.
So now we understand clearly that Black History Month is an African-American tradition invented to meet African American needs – much like Kwanza, that was invented in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga as an African American cultural holiday.
And what might Black History Month have to do with CaribbeanTales? Well, specially for Black History Month, we are highlighting two different strategies undertaken by enterprising Caribbean-Canadian pioneers to achieve results similar to those for which CaribbeanTales aims. That is, to tell all the rich and diverse Caribbean-Canadian stories that ordinarily would go unrecorded and unpublished.
The first strategy is described through excerpts from Stephanie Martin's panel presentation at the 1996 American National Black Writers Conference when she spoke about Sister Vision Press, co-founded by Makeda Silvera and herself in 1985. As with many other small presses, it was plagued by financial difficulties and eventually closed its doors after about fifteen years. But during its existence, Sister Vision published more than fifty works from a diverse group of Caribbean, Asian, Aboriginal and mixed race women writers. It gave several writers who are with mainstream publishers today, the initial chance to see their work in print.
For the second strategy, we feature Tisha Marajh's interview with Raynier Maharaj, the genial Managing Editor of Caribbean Camera that was founded in 1990 and is still going strong. This weekly community-based newspaper has a distinctive Caribbean-Canadian orientaion and focuses on political, economic, recreational and entertainment issues, analysis and stories.
We should also tell you about another CaribbeanTales strategy -- our newest website Literature Alive Online that is currently still in development. It should be up by April 2006. It will complement Literature Alive, the Leda Serene Films / Caribbean Tales thirteen-episode series of documentaries on Caribbean-Canadian writers that BRAVO originally broadcast late last year. It will include many of the featured writers such as Andre Alexis, Ramabai Espinet, Nalo Hopkinson, Tessa McWatt, Pamela Mordecai, Olive Senior, Dwayne Morgan, Shani Mootoo, d'bi young, Dany Laferriere, Richardo Keens Douglas, Jemini and Louise Bennett.
This unique Literature Alive Online website will provide easy access, free of charge to information about twenty-six Caribbean-Canadian authors through biographical and bibliographic material, along with brief excerpts from their published works; related video and audio interview clips; and critical reviews, articles and links to other literary sources. There will also be Study Guides that will be especially geared to meet the needs of high school and university students.
We hope you enjoy the February 2006 edition of our CaribbeanTales E-Newsletter! We look forward to your feedback. It always helps us to improve our standards.