Historiography of Charles H. Wesley as Reflected through 'The Journal of Negro History,' 1915 - 1969
Miller, M. Sammye, The Journal of Negro History
CHARLES H. WESLEY. "The Struggle of Haiti & Liberia for Recognition," Vol. II, no. 4, October, 1917, 369-383.
-----. "Lincoln's Plan for Colonizing the Emancipated Negroes," Vol. IV, no. 1, January, 1919, 7-21.
-----. "The Employment of Negroes as Soldiers in the Confederate Army," Vol. IV, no. 3 July, 1919, 239-253.
-----. "Remy Ollier, A Mauritian Journalist and Patriot," Vol. VI, no. 1, January, 1921, 54-59.
-----. "The Negro in the West Indies," Vol. XVII, no. 1, January, 1932, 51-66.
-----. "The Neglected Period of Emancipation in Great Britain, 1807-1823," Vol. XVII, no. 2, January, 1932, 156-178.
-----. "The Emancipation of the Free Colored Population in the British Empire," Vol. XIX, no. 2, April, 1934, 137-170.
-----. "The Reconstruction of History," Vol. XX, no. 4, October, 1935, 411-427.
-----. "The Religious Attitudes of Negro Youth - A Preliminary Study of Opinion in an Urban and Rural Community," Vol. XXI, no. 4, October, 1936, 376-393.
-----. Document, "Abou Bekir Sadiki, Alias Edward Doulais," Vol. XXI, Jan.-Oct. 1936, 52-55.
-----. "The Negroes of New York in the Emancipation Movement," Vol. XXIV, no. 1, January, 1939, 65-103.
-----. "The Concept of Negro Inferiority In American Thought - An Address," Vol. XXI, no. 3, July, 1940, 540-560.
-----. "Manifests of Slave Shipments Along Waterways, 1800-1864, Vol. XXVII, no. 2, April, 1942, 155-176.
-----. "The Participation of Negroes in Anti-Slavery Political Parties," Vol. XXIX, no. 1, January 1944, 33-74.
-----. "Negro Suffrage in the Period of Constitution-Making, 17871865," Vol. XXXII, no. 2, April, 1947, 143-168.
-----. "Carter G. Woodson - As a Scholar," Vol. XXXVI, no. 1, January, 1951, 12-24.
-----. "Racial Historical Societies and the American Heritage," Vol. XXXVII, no. 1, 1952, 11-35.
-----. "The Dilemma of the Rights of Man," Vol. XXXVIII, no. 1, January, 1953, 10-26.
-----. "The Civil War and the Negro American," Vol. XLVII, no. 2, April, 1962, 77-96.
-----. "Creating and Maintaining an Historical Tradition," Vol. XLIX, no. 1, January, 1964, 13-33.
-----. "W.E.B. Du Bois - The Historian," Vol. L, no. 3, July 1965, 147-162.
If, indeed, we believe that historiography represents the history, the writing of history and its interpretation, then, the fifty years of written commitment by Charles H. Wesley in The Journal of Negro History between 1917 and 1965 is perhaps one of the finest examples of devotion to the science and art ever witnessed in the annals of American historiography; particularly, when juxtaposed against this scholar's many other pursuits and endeavors as university President, minister, community activist, fraternal member, and not to mention, race straggles during the 20th Century. However, the black American historiographer finds himself put upon with the burden of race at almost every turn, all too often accused of being single issue oriented and concerned with only race related topics, and, of course, the logical consequence of such thinking that the scholarship is neither sound nor scholarly therefore, not worthy of serious consideration by the large scholarly community. This, of course, is the very reason for the founding of the Journal, i.e. to cover topics which have been neglected in the African's story in America. Only in recent years have similar publications begun to correct such willful omissions.
To illustrate the point more clearly, in 1946, the Social Science Research Council had commissioned one of the most exhaustive studies on theoretical constructs of historiography undertaken in the profession, entitled, "Theory And Practice In Historical Study: A Report Of The Committee On Historiography". In chapter three of that study, Howard K. Beale wrote an interesting essay entitled, "What Historians Have Said About The Causes Of The Civil War," and he devoted a special section about the efforts of "Negro" historians' theoretic concepts about the historiography of the period. Beale complained, "the Negro's views on the Civil War would be interesting, but in their preoccupation with the history of the race, Negroes have written little on the larger aspects of American history." He cites and indicts Charles Wesley on two specific instances. He writes, "Charles Wesley's Negro Labor in the United States found slavery the major issue of the War, but pointed out that neither Northern labor nor Northern soldiers nor Southern slaves realized what the real issue was. Beale further complained about Wesley's study of the Confederacy (p.73-74). He wrote, "Unless one includes incidental material in Charles Wesley's Collapse Of The Confederacy, it was worthy of only being quoted as incidental material and too marred with overtones of "Negroness". Sad to report, Beale offers to African-American historiography only one ludicrous solution. Give up being black and disappear into the veil of objectivity. Beale recommended, "when they (black historiographers), do turn to general topics, they detach themselves from race bias that no one unacquainted with them would guess they are Negroes." Of course, no such prescription is demanded of Eurocentric writers or any other of the many racialists of the period. One wonders where the female historiographer's place is in such thinking? Fortunately, for the African-American historiographers the correct response to such thinking had already been laid eloquently by W.E.B. Du Bois in the preface of his seminal and mammoth work, Black Reconstruction. He wrote, "It would only be fair to the reader to say frankly in advance that the attitude of any person toward this story will be distinctly influenced by his theories of the Negro Race." Du Bois commented further: if a person "believes that the Negro in America and in general is an average and ordinary human being, who under a given environment develops like other human beings, then he will read this story and judge it by the fact adduced . . . if he regards the Negro as a distinctly inferior creation, who can never successfully take part in modern civilization and whose emancipation and enfranchisement were gestures against nature, then he will need something more than the sort of facts that I have set down." But the most critical sentence in these introductory remarks by Du Bois was this line, "but this latter person, I am not trying to convince." And this should be the response even today.
What is more shocking today is that the task which Carter G. Woodson, Charles Wesley and writers in the Journal of Negro History have found themselves doing has not changed. Du Bois detailed this clearly in the last chapter of Black Reconstruction (XVII), entitled, "The Propaganda of History". Most notably Du Bois cites: 1. all Negroes were ignorant; 2. all Negroes were lazy, dishonest and extravagant; and 3. Negroes were responsible for bad government (pp.711-712). In defense of the black historiographer, Du Bois wrote, 'Negroes have some excellent work on their own history and defense. It suffers, of course, from natural partisanship and a desire to prove a case in the face of unfair attacks. Finally, Du Bois complained, "We shall never have a science of history until we have in our colleges men who regard the truth as more important than the defense of the white race." (p.725) Wesley heralded Du Bois for these efforts in a special essay in the Journal in 1965, entitled "W.E.B. Du Bois - the Historian", in which he gave particular attention to the racialist response on Reconstruction and the need for expression of African-American historiographers' reaction to the period. We also find Wesley echoing these sentiments, along with Thelma Perry, in their introduction to Woodson's Mis-Education Of The Negro (1969). They write: "The most imperative and crucial element in Woodson's concept of mis-education hinged on the education system's failure to present authentic Negro history in schools and the bitter knowledge that there was a scarcity of literature available for such purpose, because most history books gave little or no space to the black man's presence in America." They further complained: "the neglect of Afro-American history and distortion of the facts concerning Negroes in most history books, deprived the black child and his whole race of a heritage, and relegated him to nothingness and nobodyness." So important was the task at hand that Wesley felt it had international and global ramifications. He wrote so in the 12th edition (1972) of his primer in African-American history co-authored with Woodson, The Negro In Our History. He wrote: "The status of colored Americans has become far from different than what many Americans and people abroad believe it to be, and these facts should become a part of the American process, if we are to have a world of peace. Good texts in the general history of the United States are available for use, but the neglects, innuendoes and omissions concerning the people of color are disturbing to students of human relations. This edition has been planned to give correction to these partial views of the history and culture of the darker people, so that the resulting picture can be truthful and well rounded." Citing Hegel as the philosophical and historiographical model for the volume's global egalitarian thrust, he remarked: "Hegel best expresses [sic] the events when he stated 'The History of the World is unfolding of human freedom.' We (meaning he and Woodson) can see the unfolding as it relates to American democracy in the last chapters of this volume." Wesley concluded the volume by stating: "Black Americans now study their history in Africa and the United States and regard it as important to them as Europe and Asia are to others. It has been and is our history. Blacks are proud of their history and can no longer be made ashamed of their black faces or background. . . . On the worthy past known to them from history they seek to build a future in which they can become true Americans in our nation dedicated to the concepts of freedom and unity without reference to race, creed or color" (p.860).
Historiographically, no where does Wesley make this point more clear than in the Journal of Negro History in an article entitled, "The Reconstruction of History," published in October, 1935. He wrote: "History is not the story of men and women of one race or color and the neglect and omission of the men and women of another race or color. It is neither the glorification of white people or black people, but it is the story of the people irrespective of race or color. It should deal with people in all times and places and should present the contribution of all people to civilization. When a part of the pole has been neglected or given subordinate places, history in order to be truthful must be reconstructed" (p.422). In that connection, he noted several axioms which clearly would put Dr. Wesley, if he were alive today, in the forefront of Afrocentric based curriculum, education and methodologies. For example, he said:
1. History should be reconstructed so that Africa - the home of the darker races - shall have its place.
2. History should be reconstructed so that negroes shall be known on a higher level than that of jokes and minstrels
3. History should be reconstructed so that negroes shall appear not only as the recipients of liberty but as the winners of it, not only for themselves but also for others. It is common for Americans to think of Negroes as a docile, cowardly race. Most importantly, ("Negroes fought for their own freedom") (p.425).
4. History should be reconstructed so that negroes shall be regarded as Americans not simply as slaves or as an alien part of the population. Set off from the rest of the American population by a segregated life, Negroes are prone to regard themselves as being apart as well as to accept such classification in history. Birth within the allegiance has been the test of citizenship and nationality in past history.
Finally, Dr. Wesley concluded: "History's reconstruction will make the way clearer for the advancement of the Negro in American life; and to be certain, this task is largely that of the Negro himself" (p.427).
Wesley saw the mission he prescribed being carried through Woodson's pioneer efforts with the Association, The Journal of Negro History and The Negro History Bulletin and wrote so in the Journal in an article memorializing Woodson's work entitled: "Carter G. Woodson As a Scholar" published in January, 1951. In this article, he describes five salient characteristics of Woodson as an historiographer:
1. Woodson, as Discoverer of Truth.
Wesley wrote: "Without an exceptional intelligence, a keen insight and an originality beyond the average, he took the discovery of truth about the peoples of color in Africa, their descendants across the seas and in the United States."
2. Woodson, as a Contributor to Truth.
Wesley noted books, monographs and articles as research contributions to historical truth.
3. Woodson, as an organizer of Truth. Wesley pointed out the founding of the Association on September 9, 1915 as the first organization by blacks to treat the records of the race scientifically and to publish the findings to the world. Wesley also noted that Woodson was a person of single mind and action . . . he brought the first issue of the Journal Of Negro History out on January 1, 1916, about three months after the organization of the Association, without even a consultation with his Executive Council (p.19). 4. Woodson, as a Disseminator of Truth.
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5. Woodson, as Fighter for Truth.
Wesley noted that Woodson often fought against tradition in the education of Negro youth and against those who would rob the Negro population in the United States of faith in themselves (p.24).
Throughout his career as a historiographer, Wesley believed, as did Woodson, in the humanistic righteousness of the Negro cause and expressed so in the ASNLH's meetings. At a closed meeting in 1952, in Detroit, Michigan, he delivered an address entitled "The Dilemma of the Rights of Man," later to be published in the subsequent issue of the Journal in January, 1953. He remarked: "There is a close parallel between the period of the Rights of Man in the eighteenth century and the period of human rights in the twentieth century. In our age when the shibboleth of human rights is bantered about among us, though its, adoption would bring in a new day of brotherhood, we are often negligent and forgetful of a similar period in history when a dilemma was faced by patriotic doctrinaires as they confronted a white and black world" (p. 10) He concluded: "We can rescue our age from the repetition of this dilemma if we play our part courageously in the battle for freedom, in which individuals anti organizations should be again engaged so that human rights in our land can be as real as in Europe, Asia and White America, rather than to continue to be known, as yesterday, a mockery of our declarations of rights" (p.26).
One can readily see how this theme played out from one of the very first articles that Dr. Wesley wrote for the Journal of Negro History, "The Struggle
For Haiti & Liberia For Recognition." Wesley noted: ". . . after Haiti had been an independent power for sixty years and Liberia for fifteen years, the government of the United States granted recognition to them as independent republics, on the eve of the death of the slave system but because of recognition the Negro Republics would produce - holding some as slaves and recognizing others as equals - these republics were forced to ally themselves with the opponents of slavery and to encourage the presentation of their case through the champions of anti-slavery in the legislative halls Without regard to their more recent internal politics and modern difficulties, the recognition of these republics as independent powers forms one of the great landmarks in the Negro's progress toward democracy, and justice" (p 383). A perusal of the topics selected by Woodson shows his interest in the theme of emancipation; "Lincoln's Plan for Colonizing the Emancipated Negroes," 1919; "The Neglected Period of Emancipation in Great Britain," January, 1932; "The Emancipation of the Free Colored Population in the British Empire,' 1934. So critical was this latter humanistic thrust, that Wesley felt the study was of paramount importance to Negro freedom the United States that he remarked the following about his British study: "The study of the efforts of the free colored population of the British Empire for their complete freedom is not without its lessons for the Negro population of the United States, who yet await another emancipation. The conclusion from the study is quite evident. It can be clearly seen that wealth, education, culture and numbers are not themselves sufficient to bring recognition to a suppressed group but that protest, petition, united counsels and aggressive action must accompany them. In this connection, the Negroes of the United States who are advancing in wealth, education and culture would do well to study the technique of protest which was developed by the free colored population of the British Empire in their attainment of the privileges of citizenship" (p.170). He continued the theme with future publications. In 1939, "The Negroes of New York in the Emancipation Movement," and later in 1944 and 1947 respectively, "The Participation of Negroes in Anti-Slavery Political Parties," and "Negro Suffrage in the Period of Constitution Making."
Though we began with Howard K. Beale's criticism of Wesley's treatment of black participation in the Civil War, some of his most interesting works in the Journal cover precisely that topic: "Lincoln's Plan for Colonizing the Emancipated Negroes," January, 1919; "The Employment of Negroes as Soldiers in the Confederate Army," July, 1919 and the "Civil War and the Negro," April, 1962. What prophetic vision? Today, Hollywood can produce a Glory or PBS can relate the black military experience during that period to untold generations because of his pioneering efforts. As the Renaissance Man that he was, Dr. Wesley kept an interest in the international and this was also reflected in the themes published in the Journal of Negro History. We've already mentioned Wesley's first article: "The Struggle of Haiti & Liberia for Recognition," October, 1917; but there was a so "The Negro in the West Indies," January, 1932; "Remy Ollier, A Mauritian Journalist," January, 1921; Also previously cited, "The Neglected Period of Emancipation in Great Britain," January, 1932; "The Emancipation of the Free Colored Population in the British Empire," April, 1934; and the Document, "Abou Bekir" Oct., 1936.
In addition to his international theme, his other articles reflect his interest in the Civil War, Slavery, the Philosophy of the Rights of Man and, most importantly, the theoretical ideas about the nature and philosophy of history, that is, historiography, itself. Indeed as one of the last written legacies to the Journal in 1964, he wrote "Creating and Maintaining an Historical Tradition".
Dr. Charles Wesley truly was the historian's historiographer.
M. Sammye Miller is Professor of History and Chairman, Department of History and Government, Bowie State University, Bowie, Maryland; Former Editor, Negro History Bulletin and Biographer of Robert H. Terrell. This paper was first delivered at the 76th Annual Meeting of The Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, November, 1991, Washington, DC.…
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Publication information: Article title: Historiography of Charles H. Wesley as Reflected through 'The Journal of Negro History,' 1915 - 1969. Contributors: Miller, M. Sammye - Author. Journal title: The Journal of Negro History. Volume: 83. Issue: 2 Publication date: Spring 1998. Page number: 120+. © Not available. COPYRIGHT 1998 Gale Group.
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