Creating Great African Americans

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  • When I was a kid, my parents had a coffee table book, “Great Negroes: Past and Present.”  Day after day, I would pass through the living room, (because there was no living in the living room) and didn’t really pay attention to the books that lived in the living room.  One weekend before I had a book report assignment due, my mother suggested that I look through the Russell Adams book for some ideas, especially since we were approaching Negro History Month.  Please tell me someone remembers before we were African American, we were Black and before we were Black, we were Colored or Negro and before we were Negro, we were–well, you get the idea.

    So, with my mom, I sat on the living room floor and went through “Great Negroes: Past and Present.”  There were well over 100 Great Negroes. And this was just Volume One–a very long, long, long time ago. There were so many Great Negroes! From Mary Mc Leod Bethune to Alexandre Dumas.  The story that caught my eye was that of Gordon Parks. As his autobiography, “The Learning Tree,” indicated, his story was no where similar to my upbringing, but his love of photography is what grabbed my attention.  He loved taking pictures just like I did.  The only difference was, my “photographs” came from a Brownie camera. Mr. Parks’ photos were a bit more advanced.  “American Gothic” is a classic. But the connection was made.  Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Parks, I have remained a fan of all his endeavors—from his autobiography, to his photography to his work behind a movie camera as a director of films like “The Learning Tree” to the original “Shaft” and others.

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    11 thoughts on “Creating Great African Americans

    1. Mom so proud of her son’s depiction of this field trip but embarrassed I let him go! I had no idea!!!
      This so called MLK remembrance play ”The Mountain Top play” in the Booth Playhouse at “The Blumenthal Theater’, was by far the most ignorant asinine play I have ever witnessed. It’s bad enough that this took place in February “Black History Month”, but it made a mockery of an iconic black figure. On the field trip permission slip it describes the purpose is “Re-imaging the events after the speech Martin Luther King Jr. gave before his death on April 3,1968 in Memphis Tennessee “. I did not recall such a man who starts a speech with “Why America will burn in hell” or “Fuck the white people”. Yes, in this play Martin Luther King Jr. Is portrayed as a fearful, cheating drunker who flirts with a hotel maid as they share a cigarette and cursed back and forth. Even when it couldn’t get any worse the maid is an “angel”, sent from heaven by a female GOD to take Martin Luther King Jr., after swearing, pulling whiskey out of her pocket, and cigarettes from under her dress. Next there is a heated argument between MLK and yours truly GOD, were Dr. King yelled at GOD commanding “It’s not my time” and “I’m won’t go”. But of course you cannot end a derogatory play without referring to one another as “Nigga” and “Nigger” as Dr. King cries out “where is that Nigga with my cigarettes”. This was an absolute disgrace to Martin Luther King Jr., I’d like to question CMS “What were you thinking” letting high school students attend such a play? And furthermore why who would write up such a play just to have it observed by high school students. This information should have defiantly been listed on the permission slips “Racist comedy act”. Because I assure you no parent in their right mind would let their child attend this absurd act of ignorance.
      Marquel H- Olympic High School/Junior-Charlotte,NC

    2. The job search for older people is extremely difficult – I just found a new book that may help – (“Why Is It Hard To Find A Job After 50″) by Don Wicker, Ph.D.



      In the Wayne County Mississippi Newspaper Front page continues 8A February 14,2013 addition.

      KKK threat to kill my child four children continous violations. We need representation. But, Sheriff office said they cannot get involved with this, they have a contract with the school.I called 911 they couldn’t help us.

      Rayar Johnnson

    4. History will recall that February, 2013 was the first Black History Month celebrated after the United States re-elected its first Black president. February, 2009 was also significant, but the re-election may hold more historical significance years from now as America seeks understanding on the issues of race.

      Black History Month is always an opportunity to reflect on what has been and is the Black Experience in America. It has been a turbulent existence, yet it is an existence that has been ordained and protected by the Master. This Black Experience is rooted in resilience and abundant in accomplishment.

      Black Americans have become renowned scientists, surgeons, and physicians making life better for people all around the world. Black Americans own TV networks, music companies, movie studios, newspapers and publishing empires. Black Americans are presidents of universities, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and elected members of governments all over the country. And yes, the President of the United States is a Black American.

      We may never know what the Master’s plan is, but I suggest there is a Devine reasoning and purpose why Black Americans have survived, and continue to survive the struggles and strife of this existence. A purpose that has taken us from the Middle Passages to Jim Crow to a Civil Rights Movement lead by a King to today. If it was not true, we would not be here.

    5. Gee, Sybil, it is about dang time you write something – anything! (SMILE) Nevertheless, it was well worth the wait, as I TRULY enjoyed your piece “Creating Great African Americans.” In it, you remind us to appreciate our ancestors, their plight, and their courageous fight for us. Additionally, you advise us to have “the talk”; the talk that will allow us to open and examine our minds of what was and what we can create and encourage for our future. THANK YOU, for writing this, as we NEED this now more than ever!
      Like you, I do not have children, but ALL the children in my family and in the communities are my children. Society’s children are indeed all of our children, and we owe it to them to teach and reach each of them and share “our” story. Thanks for reminding us that it is our job to have “the talk” so that we can help encourage the creation of great Black African Americans.

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    7. I love this article. I think we had the same book on my family coffee table. My mom gave the book to my daughter and believe me, it didn’t sit on our coffee table. There is nothing more beautiful than our kids knowing their African American history. My husband and I started teaching our daugthers about their history as soon as they were born because we knew our history would not be in the mainstream school books. Today, our girls are confidence and strong. They can stand with any crowd because they know who they are and what and where they came from. If only all of our kids could experience the good feeling of being proud of knowing their history. Today, our oldest in a prestigious medical school and the youngest is a straight ‘A’ student in high school, with medical school aspirations also.

      Because I was never taught about the beauty of my history growing up, I lacked confidence and felt inferior to my white counterparts during high school, college and now in my workforce. So what I do now, if any kids are in the ear range of my voice, I’m teaching them to love themselves, because look at where you came from. Thanks Sybil for the article brought back memories.

    8. That’s a good idea (to reexamine our past heroes). Today we seem to have so many blacks seeking fame, but without a cause–fame for the sake of fame. And all though there are many heroes in our communities, the people that seem to get the press are those that are self serving. It seems to me that our true black heroes are those that are motivated out of a sense of need–need in our homes, community, and society as a whole. When I look at truly great leaders, such as Dr. King, Abe Lincoln, and Gandhi, I see people that had a particular fight that compelled them… purpose. When I look at Ralph J. Bunche, Frederick Douglass, or Paul Robeson, I see people of character. Where are our leaders and men an women of character today? All I see are self-serving, greedy, arrogant individuals who epitomize today’s humanism. Don’t look to the coffee table today; you will only see the usual suspects found in Ebony magazine… and trust me those are not the ones you want to model our future great African-Americans on.

      • Wouldn’t it be great if we approached February like so many churches approach the new year; with a basic theme. Why can’t we start in… say, October canvassing black folks on a particular theme for February. Something that would be uplifting, self improving, or positive for us collectively. Our own type of New Year resolution as a people.

    9. While I am not a fan of compressing the contributions of African-Americans to this country into 28 short days, you’re right, it is a great opportunity to help highlight other lesser known great Black leaders. Our kids need to go beyond the few that are commonly taught in school or spoken about in the media and the responsibility to expose them rests on us, their parents or caregivers.

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