From a Usable Past to a Collaborative Future: African American Culture in the Age of Computational Thinking

By Pearson, Kim | Black History Bulletin, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

From a Usable Past to a Collaborative Future: African American Culture in the Age of Computational Thinking


Pearson, Kim, Black History Bulletin


On February 12, 1909, on the centennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, a biracial group of intellectuals and human rights activists issued a call for the establishment of a movement committed to justice and equality for all American citizens. The organization they created, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, mounted a decades-long legal assault on Jim Crow, culminating in the US Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education that separate educational facilities were inherently unequal.

Equally important, the NAACP's director of Publicity of Research, protean scholar-activist W.E.B. Du Bois, published Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races. At its height during the first decades of the 20th century, Crisis was one of the most influential magazines in the nation. During a time that was increasingly becoming known as the American Century, writers of the Crisis explained to its readers that the realization of America's possibilities depended upon justice for Africa and her descendants in the United States and around the globe. Not just Africa--but India, China, and all of the colonized peoples of the world.

Du Bois used the magazine to expose the links between slavery and colonialism. Along with articles and photo galleries documenting black people's accomplishments and dispatches on the latest domestic racial atrocities, Du Bois organized Pan-African Congresses, published James Weldon Johnson's accounts of the U.S. occupation of Haiti, reported from Liberia, tracked Gandhi's nonviolent independence movement in India, and sought to parse the meaning of the Soviet revolution and the rise of Japan.

Du Bois was part of a small cadre of scholars seeking to spread the truth of Africa's history and culture-seeking to undo centuries of lies and omissions about their place in the historical record. Another scholar in that cadre, Carter G. Woodson, would go on to found the organization responsible for the journal you are reading. Like that of Du Bois, Woodson's thinking was animated by global awareness. From 1903 to 1907, Woodson traveled throughout Europe and Asia, spending most of his time as a teacher in the Philippines. Woodson brought that global awareness to his brainchildren: the Journal of African American History, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and the Black History Bulletin.

February 12, 2009--the centennial of the founding of the NAACP and the bicentennial of the birth of Lincoln--was marked by proclamations from Pres. Barack Obama, a man of African descent with a multinational family, married to a woman with slave ancestors. Obama's election does not signal the full achievement of the equality for which Du Bois, Woodson, and their comrades fought; African Americans still fall too far behind on too many key social indicators for that to be the case. However, there is no question that Obama's achievement could not have happened without the vision of those early 20th-century pioneers. It is also true that these times require an even more acute awareness of our global interdependence. And once again, the fate of Africa is central to international progress.

The lessons contained in this volume afford students a window on the role of Africa and African American history and culture in the evolution of global culture. In Jason "Khaleed" Hayes's work, hip hop is connected to its African roots and to its direct forebears in the Harlem Renaissance. Brenda Jackson and Sharon Anderson use hip hop to trace the diffusion of culture around the globe while fostering media literacy and a critical perspective on the art form. Krull uses canonical African American poets to ignite students' passion for the craft. Meanwhile, Grant brings the issue of linguistic diversity to the fore.

These model lessons admirably assist in helping students construct what historian Nell Painter calls a "usable past" as their generation seeks to move forward, together, toward a common future. …

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