The 2002 Black History Month Learning Resource Package

Article excerpt

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History chose to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Carter G. Woodson's establishment of "Negro History Week" (now Black History Month) by reviewing the theme of another great African American thinker, W.E.B. DuBois. At the dawn of the twentieth century, DuBois prophesied more than once that the problem of the color line (race) would dominate the world's historical landscape. At the close of the twentieth century, this country continued to be mired in vitriolic displays of individual and systematic acts of racism: 170 burnings of black churches, black men dragged to death by white racists in Illinois and Texas, 41 shots by New York policemen at an unarmed black man reaching for his wallet are but a few examples.

Even after the convening of a national panel to address the historical impact of racism, politics weighed heavily in the decision that America did not owe African Americans as much as an apology for centuries of hate and oppression. Marking the official end of the tumultuous twentieth century of DuBois's prophecy, the international community brought together community leaders, governmental officials, world leaders, and scholars at the United Nations World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001 to address the ramifications of racism and xenophobia. The current administration initially refused to send any American representation to Durban. Only after acquiescing to domestic and international pressure did this government respond by sending any representation, and it responded by sending a low level official at that. Indeed, the issue of the color line (race) is alive today, but many of those who need to be at the forefront of the discussion choose to be mute when their voices are needed most.

Fortunately, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History in the spirit of its founder, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, had the vision and temerity to center the issue of the "color line" (race) for its 2002 Black History Month Learning Resource Package. This package is an important, ongoing contribution to Dr. Carter G. Woodson's vision for a commemoration and celebration of the life, history, and culture of black people. The editorial board humbly accepted the invitation to serve, and thought it most efficacious to examine the issue of the color line (race) among five broad, but important areas: Politics, Education, Economics, Culture (mass media), and Global Dimensions.

To make the Learning Resource Package accessible to teachers, we preceded each of the five chapters with an overview. Furthermore, each chapter contains discussion questions, activities for students, key terms, and other resources for teachers.

The Foci for the Chapters


The chapters in the section on Politics share in common an attempt to explain the existence of racism. Howard Zinn's "Drawing the Color Line" searches for an historical point to signal the birth of racism on the shores of North America. Conversely, Stephen J. Gould documents the "scientific" rationales for racism and shows scientists' attempts to quantify black inferiority. C. Vann Woodward, on the other hand, discusses racism in the aftermath of the Civil War.


Understandably, many educators today wonder if racism affects the institution of education. Unfortunately, education is not exempt from the pernicious grasp of racism as the contributors to the Learning Resource Package indicate. Carter G. Woodson's warning in his seminal The Mis-Education of the Negro holds relevance for today:

   The same educational process which inspires and stimulates the oppressor 
   with the thought that he is everything and has accomplished everything 
   worthwhile, depresses and crushes at the same time the spark of genius in 
   the Negro by making him feel that his race does not amount to much and 
   never will measure up to the standard of other people. The Negro thus 
   educated is a hopeless liability of the race (xiii). 

Essentially, Woodson's argument is that black people "have no control of their education" and have left their education "almost entirely in the hands of those who have enslaved them" (22). Dr. Woodson saw the educational system of his day as "antiquated" and ineffectual even for white students, and even more so for African American students (xii). Therefore, he worked to develop a new program of instruction for African Americans, one in which the African American student would learn to think and do for her/himself (x).


Notwithstanding the economic gains of individual African Americans, the relative economic position of African Americans improved marginally over the century, if it improved at all. Two essays in the Resource Package by Claud Anderson and Randall Robinson provide cogent arguments that the economic woes facing African America are attributable to the unequal and unjust distribution of wealth, power, and resources in this nation bequeathed by centuries of white America's exploitation of black America's labor. Consequently, this exploitation has led to structural economic inequities in black America.


When I was completing my Ph.D. studies, two of my classmates asked if I would meet with them to answer some of their pressing questions. I sat with these two women from different Middle Eastern countries and answered each question patiently. "Is it true that all black men are criminals? Why is it that you black men make babies and leave your women to care for them without your help?" And so the questions continued. These questions were not asked out of malice. To the contrary, these women wanted me, needed me to offer them explanations, stories, that differed from the images of black people that permeated the radio and television airwaves in their respective homes.

The editors of the Resource Package were sensitive to the need to discuss the role that culture plays in the ongoing "color line" problem. Film, television, and music stand paramount as purveyors of American culture to those within the borders and those within the international community. Thus, the insipid racism that taints America seeps through the vessels of American culture including the aforementioned film, television, and music industries.

Global Dimensions

The psychiatrist Dr. Frances Cress Welsing writes one of the essays in the 2002 Learning Resource Package. She defines racism as a global system of white supremacy that manifests itself in the major areas of people activity: economics, education, entertainment, labor, law, politics, religion, sex, and war. Acknowledging the global nature of racism, the editors of the Resource Package include a chapter on the international dimensions and ramifications of racism. Held in Durban, South African in 2001, the United Nations World Conference Against Racism was a testament to the primacy that individuals and nations are ascribing to the importance of racism in affairs of domestic and international consequence. Ironically, this international meeting took place almost a hundred years after DuBois alerted the global community that the color line would be both an individual quagmire for the black community and an equally difficult issue for the world as a whole.

The 2002 Black History Month Learning Resource Package is a rich resource. It contains historical documents, classic articles from some of America's greatest thinkers, and original essays from some of today's most insightful scholars. The Resource Package is a contribution to Dr. Carter G. Woodson's vision for the documentation and commemoration of the life, history, and culture of black people. The overwhelming conclusion of the Resource Package is that racism is far from dead. Consequently, there is a need for more intellectual projects such as the one taken here to address this ubiquitous evil. A luta continua (The struggle continues)!

To order the 2002 Black History Month Learning Resource Package contact:

7961 Eastern Avenue, Suite 301 
Silver Spring, MD 20910 
301.587.5900 phone 
301.587.5915 fax 

Baruti N. Kopano, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of English/Mass Communications, Delaware State University (Dover, Delaware)