I thank God for making me a Black Man.
Where do we go from here? Is the question. That only we can answer. So let the real Men and Women of the race, who are willing to work and serve the people answer that question. My question to you, are you willing to serve?
The challenge facing the scholar of African descent
Contrary to a misconception which still prevails, Africans were familiar with literature and art for many years before their contact with the Western World. Before the breaking-up of the social structure of the West African states of Ghana, Mali and Songhay and the internal strife and chaos that made the slave trade possible, the forefathers of the Africans who eventually became slaves in the United States, lived in a society where university life was fairly common and scholars were held in reverence. To understand fully any aspect of African American life one must realize that the African American is not without a cultural past, though he was many generations removed from it before his achievement in American literature and art commanded any appreciable attention.
That is why African and Africana history should be taught every day, not only in the schools, but also in the home and African American History Month should be every month. We need to learn about all of the African people in the world. The idea of an education for a new reality in the African world was aleady old, with me, before this decade. The serious study of the plight of African people all over the world, in all ages, conditions and geographical settings, has been the main part of my life's work. It is the all consuming passion of my existence. It is something I do, just like breathing is something I do. It is a subject which, if I were to talk directly on it for more than twenty minutes, I would have to talk on it for at least a year.
To begin, let's consider the word BLACK. Black is an honorable word and I am glad to see so many people lose their fear of using it: however, black has its limitations. Black tells you how you look without telling you who you are. A more proper word for our people, African, relates us to land, history and culture. No people can be spiritually and culturally secure until they answer to a name of their own choosinga name that instantaneously relates that people to the past, the present, and the future. In his book, The Name "Negro": Its Origin and Evil Use, the Caribbean writer, Richard B. Moore, has said:
Slaves and dogs are named by their masters. Free men name themselves.
In his book Mr. Moore expresses something that is increasingly rare in the present academic environmenta conviction based on research and reason. "Human relations," he says, "cannot be peaceful, satisfactory, and happy until placed on the basis of mutual self-respect. The proper name for people, has thus become, in this period of crucial change and rapid reformation on a world scale, a vital factor in determining basic attitudes involving how, and even whether, people will continue to live together on this shrinking planet."
Richard B. Moore gives us much to think about in a world where Europeans and white people in general went to such great lengths to distort world history. Europeans benefitted, greatly, from this distortion and it is clear that they knew more about history than they are prepared to admit. They had to know a great deal about history in order to distort it so effectively, and then use this distortion as an element of world control. They knew that history is a two-edged sword that can be used both as an instrument of liberation and a weapon of enslavement. They knew that then and they know it now that history, like a gun, is neutral; it will serve anyone who uses it effectively.
We must understand that all the world was changed to accommodate the second rise of Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Followed swiftly by the European conquest of most of mankind, this conquest was achieved by the astute use of two political instrumentsthe Bible and the gun. The Europeans, in addition to colonizing the world, colonized information about the world and the writing of the history of the world. They were so successful that today there is not a single book in existence with the title, "World History," that is an honest history of the world and all of its people. World history lost its broad definition and became a rationale for European conquest and controla means for the glorification of European people at the expense of other people and nations whose civilizations were old before Europe was born.
The first European attack was on African culture. Their next move was to deny that this culture ever existed. A look at African cultures, especially in West Africa, will show us what an education for a new reality in the African world should be about. There is no way to talk about this education without looking again at the roots of world history and the interplay of the histories of various people. The scholar who knows his people's history and its relationship to the history of the world should start with the bold assertion that Africa is the basis of world history, and that African people are the mothers and fathers of mankind. Scholars the world over must be courageous enough to make this assertion and prepare themselves academically to prove it. The special role that history assigns to the scholar eludes most of us: the role is simple, therefore it is very complex. In most societies the scholar is not required to labor in the fields, to draw water, nor to bring wood for the fires. At this point you might ask what is the scholar required to do? What is his or her special mission? What is the assignment? The scholar is the clock-watcher of history and the keeper of the compass that must be used to locate his or her people on the map of human geography. The scholar will be able to tell the people where they have been and what they have been, where they are and what they are. Most importantly, the scholar should be able to prophesy and predict where his people still must go and what his people still must be. The scholar should be able to find the special clock that tells his people their historical, cultural and political time of day.
The role of scholars to us as a people is to end part of our special tragedy because for too long, figuratively speaking, we have been telling our time by our oppressor's clock. By his clock it could be midnight in December because he is losing control of the world. We, estranged in the Western World where we are neither guest nor citizen, are re-merging with hope flowing before us like a riverby our special historical clock. It is a morning in spring.
We are in an extraordinary situation so let us use our imagination to create an extraordinary way of looking at it. For the moment, let us take our crisis out of the framework of history and sociology, and instead regard it as a drama with many dimensions and with long historical roots. The drama is not pure: it is part comedy and part tragedy, sometimes it will be a satire and there are even elements of farce. It is a mystery play about the greatest crime ever contrived by the mind of man. The recurring theme of this drama is rape, the rape of a continent, the rape of its people. This rape set in motion an act of protracted genocide that lasted for five hundred years and has not completely exhausted itself today. The aftermath of this crime is the basis of the black world drama and the crisis that no black scholar can avoid.
With this said we can now, figuratively, put the players on stage.
In the unfolding of this great human drama that we are calling the "Black Crisis," the characters will play every role from saint to buffoon. The first scene in the play is pleasant and here is nothing that suggests future developments. Some sailors have arrived on the coast of West Africa. The year is 1438. The Africans with their customary hospitality to strangers have invited the sailors to dinner, a scene that will be repeated many times before it is turned into a tragic occurrence. The Africans did not know the temperament of these strangers, nor did they sense their ambitions nor the intent that was hidden behind their smiles. These sailors have come from a thawed-out icebox called Europe. A people who were as violent as the climate that produced them. A people who were reaching out from their hostile land searching for new gold, new labor, and a new supply of food. They find all of these items in Africa and they do not buy or bargain for them, they take them.
In the second scene of our play's first act, the dinner is over and the guests begin looking around the house of their hosts. They like so many of the things they see, including the wife of the house. Suddenly all expressions change. The guests take out their guns, rape the wife, enslave the both of them and force them away from their home to labor in the far reaches of the world. Thus the long night begins. The curtain falls on the first act of a long play that, in many ways, is still on the road.
My basic point is that all black scholars in the West, and most of them in Africa, have been reacting to the consequences of this play. Their dilemma is how to interpret these events and their far-reaching tragic aftermath. Their consequences are the primary content of their literary heritage and out of this material came the slave narratives, the spirituals, and the blues.
I am talking about something that is both historical and topical, which helps to explain why we can better understand the present by looking through the lenses of the past. We need both vantage points in order to understand the present. We, as a people, each time we forget that our African-ness is our rallying cry, our window on the world, and the basis of our first allegiance, fmd ourselves in serious trouble. To explain this fact I must make an admission that breaks my heart, as well as it might break yours. Throughout history we have been a politically naive people. We have never made a good alliance with another people, least of all with white people. I do not mean that we have never made alliances with other people. I am saying that the alliances that we have made have not been in our favor. In the future we should enter into only those alliances that we can control.
Africans, traditionally, have been the only people who permit other people to live in their home, or country, for hundreds of years without demanding a declaration of allegiance to their home. We have always invited our future conquerors to dinner. This misplaced humanity and hospitality to strangers is at once the strongest and the weakest aspect of our African way of life. It is the strongest because it is the basis of African humanity; it is the weakest because all too many strangers have come into Africa and have taken advantage of Africa's generosity. People who think they can trust every stranger who enters their home are politically naive. This is an aspect of the African world situation which we have not studied or fully acknowledged and it will remain so as long as we ignore it.
We need to take a global view of African people in our attempt to understand how we relate to other people. This will be the culmination of a long intellectual struggle that started in the first half of the nineteenth century. The need to analyze and interpret the place where African people in world history grew more critical during the first two decades of this century. Black Americans had entered the twentieth century searching for a new direction, politically, culturally and institutionally, a new definition and an ideology. New scholars were emerging who began to interpret the history and struggles of African people from an international point of view. This atmosphere nurtured new men and movements which gave black scholarship the real test of its existence. To establish an education for a new reality in the African world without an ideology would be merely a recitation of days, places, personalities and events, without an understanding of their place in the past, the present and their effect on the reshaping of the future.
For our liberation we should draw on the intellectual heritage of the whole world, beginning, of course, with our own intellectual heritage. If our people are cold, we should invade hell and borrow fire from the devil, and we will do this without becoming the devil's disciples. We should properly read the signs of history and remember:
What we do for ourselves depends on what we know of ourselves and what we accept about ourselves.
This is what the struggle in education for a new reality in the African world is all about. An education for a new reality in the African world must be holistic. Africans must be educated to know, down to the marrow of their bones, that they must be the owners of Africa and must be responsible for the management of every part of Africa. While there are Africans in most parts of the world, the historical, political and cultural heart-beat of all Africans is in Africa itself.
Education is Power
Recently some of the new leaders of African nations are beginning to sell their gold mines to Europeans, land to Europeans and to make concessions within Africa that violate the traditional values of African people. What these European-minded Africans fail to remember is that by custom and culture, land in African can neither be bought nor sold because land has been traditionally seen as the collective property of the whole people and no leader has the right to sell this birthright and the birthright of generations of Africans still to come because land is essential to nationhood. For more information about the land problem in Africa I suggest you read, The Truth About the West African Land Problem, by Casely Hayford, and Facing Mt. Kenya and Kenya, Land of Conflict by Jomo Kenyatta.
Education for a new reality in the African world must be an education that enables the African to handle all of the wealth producing resources of Africa. An education that enables the African to manage and market these resources and an education that enables him/her to prepare the generations still to come to do the same thing. A large number of African children should be chosen at birth and trained toward these ends and all education should be for the total sovereignty of African people. There is nothing in African traditional values that prohibits modernism, upward mobility, or the use of science and technology. Africans must realize that they live in a modem technical world and that there are lessons we can draw from our ancient societies to guide us. Africa has to move with the age in which it finds itself in order to survive.
What I am proposing here is a holy order of commitment. In the future we can not leave land and nation management to chance. What I am alluding to here is the establishment of an international priesthood of liberation and an institute to maintain that priesthood. If we are to go back to nationhood and be safe and secure, we must understand that a nation must be a cultural, political and economic container of the national and international aspirations of a people. The commitment to maintain the nation and secure it against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, must be part of everyone's mission, not something left solely to politicians. Africans the world over must stop playing games about who is an African. Everyone in Africa who cannot be addressed as an African is either an invader or a descendant of an invader. It is time for the African to ask the guests in their house the question: What is your mission in my house? andDo you have any loyalty or commitment to the preservation of my house, as I conceive it to be? Africans must be bold enough to let the non-African in Africa know that, "I will share power with you in Africa to the extent that you are willing to share power with me in Europe. You demand and get the prevailing power m your countries and I have every right to demand and get the prevailing power in my country." Africans should demand and get Africa as African-ruled as France is French-ruled and England is English-ruled. Too many times Africans are expected to share power with others who have no intention of sharing power with them. In educating Africans to realistically face the world of the immediate tomorrow, I am referring to the essential selfishness of survival.
My subject, Education for a New Reality in the African World, was not casually chosen. I have spoken and written on this subject or some aspect of it many times over the years. I have exhausted my arguments in favor of the subject without losing my passion for the subject. And yet I still have not made everyone understand the importance of education; education is power. When education is properly done, education opens the door to power. A true education has one purpose, and one purpose alone: to train the student to be a handler of power. One of the things that we fail to understand is that our oppressor cannot afford to educate us to handle power. We live in a society where, if we were properly educated, we would not ask for power. We would take power. We will have to stop answering to names that our mothers and fathers did not give us. We will have to stop answering to names of which we are not.
The real crisis facing black educators began a long time ago with things we did not understand. I think back to reading about a scene of an African being forced on a slave ship, and he reaches back and puts a handful of African dirt in his mouth. I think that African understood more about education than most of us. He understood the basis of nationland. Until we understand the land basis of education and the nation basis of education, we will miss the point. Where did we go wrong and when did we stop being innovators and became imitators?
In the nineteenth century we began to be "those things most unlike ourselves." When we had the golden opportunity to set a new tone in education, we tried to be like our oppressor instead of setting a new basis for education. Professor Ivan Van Sertima says that European expansion into the broader world and European colonization of history have locked us into a "five hundred year room" of history. A room wherein African people and their contributions to the world were removed from history. The basis of education for a new reality is to pull us out of this five hundred year room. We have to understand what was wrong with our education and examine the nineteenth century in the African world. The nineteenth century might have been the greatest century in the whole of the African world. This might be the century that we have to go back and examine in order to survive in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
We produced the finest minds that we have produced since the decline of Egypt and Nile Valley Civilization in the nineteenth century. We produced the rebels, the activist mentality, the realists in the nineteenth century. This is the century of Frederick Douglass and Martin I)elaney. This is the century of the great ministers, who tower over Martin Luther King, Jr. and were more realistic than Martin Luther King, Jr. Taking nothing from Dr. King, this is the century of Henry Highland Garnett whose motto was "Resistance, Resistance, Resistance." This is the century of a search for Africa again. This is the century of the great black women: Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. We have forgotten that century, but we will not orient ourselves in the twentieth century until we go back to that century, and I was just talking about what was happening in the United States.
When we look at the Caribbean Islands, this is a century of physical resistance. Looking at South America, especially Brazil, Africans brought into being two black nations. African captives were able to by-pass the auction block, escape into the hinterlands and form African nations. One of these nations, Palmares lasted for one hundred and ten years. The other one, Bahia, lasted almost as long. During this century African cultural continuity produced the most successful slave revolts in the history of the world. The best known revolts were those in Jamaica and in Haiti. Jamaica fought longer and harder than Haiti, but Haiti was able to bring off an independent state and Jamaica could not, and we wonder why.
Haiti fought over a shorter period with a greater degree of consistency, and hit the French at a strategic timewhen Napoleon was involved with other campaigns in Europe. They were successful in their revolt. When the Jamaicans revolted, their revolts were put down and too much time elapsed between revolts, giving the British time to destabilize them. After each defeat the Jamaicans had to remount each revolution from scratch. The time lapse did not give them the facility to bring forth a nation, while the total of the Haitian revolutions (there were more than one) happened over a twenty year period.
The physical resistance in the Caribbean Islands challenged Europe and changed the geography of this hemisphere. Because of the challenge of the Caribbean IslandsToussaint L'Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and ChristopheNapoleon had to sell the Louisiana Territory. These Caribbean revolutions brought into being the stimulation for the massive slave revolts in the United States.
While we are looking at the Caribbean, let's look at the Caribbean mind and its contribution to the stimulation of black social forms in the United States. We need to understand that the Caribbean mind never functioned well at home. Once the Caribbean mind begins functioning well it is driven away from home. The Caribbean mind has a way of producing seed that does not grow in the soil of the Caribbean. The soil was fertile in the United States and the best of these minds came here. It started with Prince Hall. Robert Campbell would come here. He would travel with Martin Delany to Africa and write A Search for a Place. John B. Russwurm would edit Freedom's Journal. Peter Ogden was one of the founders of Odd Fellows. Prince Hall would found the Masons. H. Sylvester Williams had tried to establish a Pan-African League in Trinidad. It failed. Trinidadians did not pay any attention to it. The same thing happened when Marcus Garvey started his Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League in Jamaica. He could not get it off the ground. The soil would not take the seed. The greatest contribution to the formal idea of Pan-Africanism was made by three Trinidadians: H. Slyvester Willlams, C.L.R. James, and George Padmore. Why couldn't these minds function at home? You can trace the history of these minds for two hundred years all the way up to Marcus Garvey, including those that returned home and were killed. None of them were accepted at home.
The greatest and clearest of the minds of the nineteenth century was Edward Wilmot Blyden. What he said about education in his famous inaugural address at Liberia College, in 1881, said more about education over one hundred years ago than we are saying right now. He said:
We will have to work for many years to come. Not only without the popular support that we must have, but with inadequate resources.
...We strive to be those things most unlike ourselves. No matter what talent we have, we feed grist into other people's mills and, of course, nothing comes out except what has been put in. And that then is our great sorrow.
This was said in 1881, over one hundred years ago, and we are still doing it. Edward Wilmot Blyden was one of the finest voices of the nineteenth century. He was not only ahead of his time, he is ahead of this time.
Let's look at Africa in the nineteenth century. This is the century of the massive anti-colonial revolts. This is the century when the African world faced reality as it had never faced reality before. In the first half of the century, the Zulu Wars in Southern Africa had already started. The Ashanti Wars in Ghana had already started. The Islamic Wars in the Sudan had already started. The Maji Maji Wars in Tanganyika and neighboring territories, and the Riff Wars in North Africa had already started. And the wars in Nigeria led by Ousmane Dan Fodio had already started.
The physical confrontation diminished as the slave trade turned into Colonialism (another form of slavery) and the Africans soon realized that missionary efforts were also a form of slavery. The Europeans began to take away the African energies and began to destroy the African images of god. One of the ways to continue to enslave a people is, after removing one set of chains from their body, to place another set of chains on their mind. Not only make them change their religion but make them abandon their religion. Make them change their dress, their tastes, their music, their food, and when this is done, you don't need any prison walls to confine these people. The prison walls inside their mind will be more binding than any prison walls you can construct.
Once we face the reality of the imprisonment of the African mind in the nineteenth century, we will face up to what was happening to that mind. We will look at the debates between blacks and blacks and look at the blacks going to Liberia to "Christianize" their "heathen" brothers. Read Alexander Crummell's work. Alexander Crummell was a great black missionary. But Alexander Crummell was a missionary with the mentality of a white missionary. He was going to Africa to spread Christianity in a continent where every element that originally went into the making of Chrisfianity, Islam, and Judaism began. Every element that went into these three religions had long been in practice on the African continent.
Once we understand the nature of our oppressor's religious oppression, we must look at the mentality of our respective oppressors. The oppressor in the United States has taught us to face reality better than any of the others. The oppressors in the Caribbean area and in South America gave their black population the illusion that one day they would be allowed to join the club. The oppressor in the United States has taught us explicitly that we will never join the club. Even with what we like to call integration, another fakery, they still let us know that if we manage to get into the club, we will never be accepted.
In the physical integration in the Caribbean Islands and in South America, if you are almost white a special place is made for you in society. You are not allowed in the house, but you would be allowed in a designated area close to the house. In the United States, the crudest of oppressors say, if you've got one drop of one drop you will be placed with the blackest of blacks and at one word, all of you will be placed in the same sack. Although the females with the one drop had some advantage in the domestic job market and the husband market, and another market which I will not mention, no place was made for them in their father's house. And this is reality.
In my research for this paper, I re-read a dissertation on religion written by an African attending Syracuse University. His dissertation detailed why African religions never became world religions. He said they had no pews, no collection plates, no temples, no missionaries, everything was free. He asked the question: How can such a religion become a world religion? Nobody was exploiting anybody. Priests were free. The community paid the priest so they did not have to pass the hat. The community brings the priest his food and makes his clothes. He pointed out that all of the elements that we call Christianity came out of Africa. All of the symbols of Christianity came out of Africa. He explained that when the people from Israel came into Africa, they had no clear religion, no law and no language, when they left they had all three. His dissertation was not well received by Syracuse University and he was thrown out, in 1933.
I would like to approach my conclusion with quotations from great African American women poets because in the great civilizations of Africa, long before we knew Europeans existed, women were revered, were treated equally and moved freely through the society and played all kinds of roles. The first deity in history was seen as a female goddess. The first woman to ride at the head of an army was an ancient Africa woman. The first woman to challenge the foreigner challenged Octavius, who later became Caesar Augustus. Another African woman challenged Alexander of Macedonia.
In her poetry, Mari Evans has said that part of the immediate solution to education is to "speak the truth to the people." With this she implies that if you give people the light, they will find their way.
In her early poetry, Pauli Murray, now The Reverend Dr. Pauli Murray, speaking of freedom, in her Dark Testament, says:
Freedom is a thing like amber wine
that lures man down a path of skulls.
For they killed the dreamer but not the dream
the dream is always the same.
The dream is about freedom.
Professor Carolyn Fowler of Atlanta University, in speaking of the need to bring African people back together again, said:
We need to look at each other more. We need to get acquainted with each other's personality. We need to remove the strangeness that has grown up between us across all the seas and all the centuries.
Margaret Walker challenges us to take action in her classic poem, For My People. She called for us to:
Let the new earth begin.
Let a new race of men rise and take control.
We will accept her challenge and my answer to her will be, Sister Margaret, we are people of vision and we see tomorrow, not as a male-dominated tomorrow, but as a collective tomorrow with males and females functioning as equals. We will say to her: We have heard the martial music. We have heard the trumpet call. We accept the challenge. We are the new men who, with our women at our side as equal partners in this enterprise, are prepared to take charge.
As we enter the twenty-first century there will be over one billion African people on the face of the earth. Properly counted, the Africans in the United States, the 1990 census says, are at 30,000,000, and the census takers missed over twenty percent of us. In the Caribbean there are 60,000,000 admitted people of African descent. In Asia there are millions who are African, whether they know it or not, and on the islands of the Pacific that are several more million who are yet to consider their African ancestry. The population of Africa was last fixed at over 700,000,000 and continues to grow.
These are staggering figures. Our study of history has taught us that we were yesterday's people, and by our shear numbers we will be tomorrow's people too. With this understanding of our new importance we can change the world, if first we change ourselves by educating ourselves for this new reality. When we count one billion of this earth there will be very few people who we will need as allies. The main allies that we will need we will be able to find among ourselves. We will be the only people who will have a continent for themselves. We will not be an oppressed people and we will not be an oppressor of any people. We will not need to exploit or take advantage of other people. We could bring to the world a new humanity and build a new age of man. This might be our mission, it might be the greatest legacy that we can leave for mankind.