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To Find the History of African American Women, Look to Their Handiwork
Our foremothers wove spiritual beliefs, cultural values, and historical knowledge into their flax, wool, silk, and cotton webs.
About the author: Tiya Miles is a history professor and Radcliffe Alumnae Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. Her latest book is All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake.
R ose was in existential distress that fateful winter in South Carolina in 1852. She was facing the deep kind of trouble that no one in our present time knows and that only an enslaved woman has felt. For Rose understood that, following the death of her legal owner, she or her little girl, Ashley, could be next on the auction block.
Ripping loved ones apart was a common practice in a society structured—and indeed, dependent—on the legalized captivity of people deemed inferior. And sale could not have been the end of Rose’s worries. She must have dreaded what could occur after this relocation: the physical cruelty, sexual assault, malnourishment, mental splintering, and even death that was the lot of so many young women defined as “slaves.” Rose adored her daughter and desperately sought to keep her safe. But what could safety possibly mean at a time when a girl not yet 10 years old could be lawfully caged and bartered?
Rose gathered all of her resources—material, emotional, and spiritual—and packed an emergency kit for the future. She gave that bag to Ashley, who carried it and passed it down across the generations.
That stained antique sack hung in a case at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, D.C., from the day of its grand opening in September 2016 until March 2021, and the sack is now on site at the Middleton Place plantation, a national historic landmark in Charleston, South Carolina. The fabric artifact immediately takes hold of those who view it, for on the cotton sack is embroidered an inscription that appears to us like a message in a bottle from across the waves of time:
My great grandmother Rose
mother of Ashley gave her this sack when
she was sold at age 9 in South Carolina
it held a tattered dress 3 handfulls of
pecans a braid of Roses hair. Told her
It be filled with my Love always
she never saw her again
Ashley is my grandmother
T he study of the history of African American women is particularly challenging because the keepers of records often overlooked us. The historian Jill Lepore has encapsulated the problem in relation to the wide scope of American history, writing that the “archive of the past … is maddeningly uneven, asymmetrical, and unfair.” So where can historians turn when the archival ground collapses beneath us? To discover the past lives of those for whom the historical record is abysmally thin, I’ve found that we must expand the materials we use as sources of information.
This post is excerpted from Miles’s recent book.
Though early women’s history can be elusive, women need not “conjure a history for ourselves,” the archaeologist Elizabeth Wayland Barber says. “Here among the textiles,” she writes, “we can find some of the hard evidence we need.” The historian Elsa Barkley Brown wrote that if we “follow the cultural guides which African American women have left us,” we will “understand their worlds.” Our foremothers wove spiritual beliefs, cultural values, and historical knowledge into their flax, wool, silk, and cotton webs. The work of their hands can lead us back to their histories, and serve as guide rails as we grope through the difficult past.
Many of us feel connected to history through women’s handiwork. Some save and repair hand-me-down table linens. Others hunt flea-market aisles for vintage fabrics. A few of us learn the skills of traditional sewing and quilting to reproduce the experience and art of our foremothers. The past seems to reach out to us through these fabrics and the practices of making them that have survived over time. Gathered up like the crisp ends of a cotton sheet fresh from the wash, past and present seem to meet above the fold.
Ashley’s sack is an extraordinary artifact of the cultural and craft productions of African American women. But it is not just an artifact. It is an archive of its own, a collection of disparate materials and messages, at once a container, carrier, textile, art piece, and record of past events. The lives of three ordinary African American women—Rose, Ashley, and Ruth—spanned the 19th and 20th centuries, slavery and freedom, the South and the North. Their love story as told through this sack is one of sacrifice, suffering, lament, and the rescue of a tested but resilient family lineage.
Rose exemplifies the collective experience of enslaved Black women, who preserved life when hope seemed lost. Rose’s kit was, by all evidence, one of a kind, but she shared with other women in her condition a vision for survival that required both material and emotional resources. She sought to immediately address a hierarchy of needs: food, clothing, shelter, identity through lineage, and, most centrally, an affirmation of worthiness. Rose gathered a dress, nuts, a lock of hair, and the cotton tote itself—things shaped by the intermingling of southern nature and culture. These items show us what women in bondage deemed essential, what they were capable of getting their hands on, and what they were determined to salvage. Rose then sealed those items, rendering them sacred, with the force of an emotional promise: a mother’s enduring love.
Despite mother and daughter’s separation, the bond between them held longevity and elasticity, traversing the final decade of chattel slavery, the chaos of the Civil War, and the red dawn of emancipation before finding new expression in the early 20th century, as a baby girl, Ruth, Ashley’s granddaughter, was born.
Just as remarkable as this story is how we have come to know about it. Through her embroidery, Ruth ensured that the valiance of discounted women would be recalled and embraced as a treasured inheritance.
A granddaughter, mother, sewer, and storyteller imbued a piece of old cloth with all the drama and pathos of ancient tapestries depicting the deeds of queens and goddesses. She preserved the memory of her foremothers and also venerated these women, shaping their image for the next generations. Without Ruth, there would be no record. Without her record, there would be no history.
Aptly called a “revelation” by Jeff Neale, a museum interpreter at the Middleton Place plantation, Ashley’s sack illuminates the contours of enslaved Black women’s experiences, the emotional imperatives of their existences, the things they required to survive, and what they valued enough to pass down. “The things we interact with are an inescapable part of who we are,” as the historian of the environment Timothy LeCain has put it, and hence things become our “fellow travelers” in this life.
Every turn in the sack’s use—from its packing in the 1850s to its tending across the dawn of a century to its embroidering in the 1920s—reveals a family endowment that stands as an alternative to the callous capitalism bred in slavery. As the women in Rose’s lineage carried the sack through the decades, the sack itself bore memories of bondage and bravery, genius and generosity, longevity and love.
This textile has an effect subtler yet more moving than that of any monument. Ashley’s sack is a quiet assertion of the right to life, liberty, and beauty even for those at the bottom, and stands in eloquent defense of the country’s ideals by indicting its failures.
The Changing Definition of African-American
Some years ago, I was interviewed on public radio about the meaning of the Emancipation Proclamation. I addressed the familiar themes of the origins of that great document: the changing nature of the Civil War, the Union army’s growing dependence on black labor, the intensifying opposition to slavery in the North and the interplay of military necessity and abolitionist idealism. I recalled the longstanding debate over the role of Abraham Lincoln, the Radicals in Congress, abolitionists in the North, the Union army in the field and slaves on the plantations of the South in the destruction of slavery and in the authorship of legal freedom. And I stated my long-held position that slaves played a critical role in securing their own freedom. The controversy over what was sometimes called “self-emancipation” had generated great heat among historians, and it still had life.
As I left the broadcast booth, a knot of black men and women—most of them technicians at the station—were talking about emancipation and its meaning. Once I was drawn into their discussion, I was surprised to learn that no one in the group was descended from anyone who had been freed by the proclamation or any other Civil War measure. Two had been born in Haiti, one in Jamaica, one in Britain, two in Ghana, and one, I believe, in Somalia. Others may have been the children of immigrants. While they seemed impressed—but not surprised—that slaves had played a part in breaking their own chains, and were interested in the events that had brought Lincoln to his decision during the summer of 1862, they insisted it had nothing to do with them. Simply put, it was not their history.
The conversation weighed upon me as I left the studio, and it has since. Much of the collective consciousness of black people in mainland North America—the belief of individual men and women that their own fate was linked to that of the group—has long been articulated through a common history, indeed a particular history: centuries of enslavement, freedom in the course of the Civil War, a great promise made amid the political turmoil of Reconstruction and a great promise broken, followed by disfranchisement, segregation and, finally, the long struggle for equality.
In commemorating this history—whether on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, during Black History Month or as current events warrant—African- Americans have rightly laid claim to a unique identity. Such celebrations—their memorialization of the past—are no different from those attached to the rituals of Vietnamese Tet celebrations or the Eastern Orthodox Nativity Fast, or the celebration of the birthdays of Christopher Columbus or Casimir Pulaski social identity is ever rooted in history. But for African-Americans, their history has always been especially important because they were long denied a past.
And so the “not my history” disclaimer by people of African descent seemed particularly pointed—enough to compel me to look closely at how previous waves of black immigrants had addressed the connections between the history they carried from the Old World and the history they inherited in the New.
In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which became a critical marker in African-American history. Given opportunity, black Americans voted and stood for office in numbers not seen since the collapse of Reconstruction almost 100 years earlier. They soon occupied positions that had been the exclusive preserve of white men for more than half a century. By the beginning of the 21st century, black men and women had taken seats in the United States Senate and House of Representatives, as well as in state houses and municipalities throughout the nation. In 2009, a black man assumed the presidency of the United States. African-American life had been transformed.
Within months of passing the Voting Rights Act, Congress passed a new immigration law, replacing the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, which had favored the admission of northern Europeans, with the Immigration and Nationality Act. The new law scrapped the rule of national origins and enshrined a first-come, first-served principle that made allowances for the recruitment of needed skills and the unification of divided families.
This was a radical change in policy, but few people expected it to have much practical effect. It “is not a revolutionary bill,” President Lyndon Johnson intoned. “It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives.”
But it has had a profound impact on American life. At the time it was passed, the foreign-born proportion of the American population had fallen to historic lows—about 5 percent—in large measure because of the old immigration restrictions. Not since the 1830s had the foreign-born made up such a tiny proportion of the American people. By 1965, the United States was no longer a nation of immigrants.
During the next four decades, forces set in motion by the Immigration and Nationality Act changed that. The number of immigrants entering the United States legally rose sharply, from some 3.3 million in the 1960s to 4.5 million in the 1970s. During the 1980s, a record 7.3 million people of foreign birth came legally to the United States to live. In the last third of the 20th century, America’s legally recognized foreign-born population tripled in size, equal to more than one American in ten. By the beginning of the 21st century, the United States was accepting foreign-born people at rates higher than at any time since the 1850s. The number of illegal immigrants added yet more to the total, as the United States was transformed into an immigrant society once again.
Black America was similarly transformed. Before 1965, black people of foreign birth residing in the United States were nearly invisible. According to the 1960 census, their percentage of the population was to the right of the decimal point. But after 1965, men and women of African descent entered the United States in ever-increasing numbers. During the 1990s, some 900,000 black immigrants came from the Caribbean another 400,000 came from Africa still others came from Europe and the Pacific rim. By the beginning of the 21st century, more people had come from Africa to live in the United States than during the centuries of the slave trade. At that point, nearly one in ten black Americans was an immigrant or the child of an immigrant.
African-American society has begun to reflect this change. In New York, the Roman Catholic diocese has added masses in Ashanti and Fante, while black men and women from various Caribbean islands march in the West Indian-American Carnival and the Dominican Day Parade. In Chicago, Cameroonians celebrate their nation’s independence day, while the DuSable Museum of African American History hosts a Nigerian Festival. Black immigrants have joined groups such as the Egbe Omo Yoruba (National Association of Yoruba Descendants in North America), the Association des Sénégalais d’Amérique and the Fédération des Associations Régionales Haïtiennes à l’Étranger rather than the NAACP or the Urban League.
To many of these men and women, Juneteenth celebrations—the commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States—are at best an afterthought. The new arrivals frequently echo the words of the men and women I met outside the radio broadcast booth. Some have struggled over the very appellation “African-American,” either shunning it—declaring themselves, for instance, Jamaican-Americans or Nigerian-Americans—or denying native black Americans’ claim to it on the ground that most of them had never been to Africa. At the same time, some old-time black residents refuse to recognize the new arrivals as true African-Americans. “I am African and I am an American citizen am I not African-American?” a dark-skinned, Ethiopian-born Abdulaziz Kamus asked at a community meeting in suburban Maryland in 2004. To his surprise and dismay, the overwhelmingly black audience responded no. Such discord over the meaning of the African-American experience and who is (and isn’t) part of it is not new, but of late has grown more intense.
After devoting more than 30 years of my career as a historian to the study of the American past, I’ve concluded that African-American history might best be viewed as a series of great migrations, during which immigrants—at first forced and then free—transformed an alien place into a home, becoming deeply rooted in a land that once was foreign, even despised. After each migration, the newcomers created new understandings of the African-American experience and new definitions of blackness. Given the numbers of black immigrants arriving after 1965, and the diversity of their origins, it should be no surprise that the overarching narrative of African-American history has become a subject of contention.
That narrative, encapsulated in the title of John Hope Franklin’s classic text From Slavery to Freedom, has been reflected in everything from spirituals to sermons, from folk tales to TV docudramas. Like Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery, Alex Haley’s Roots and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, it retells the nightmare of enslavement, the exhilaration of emancipation, the betrayal of Reconstruction, the ordeal of disfranchisement and segregation, and the pervasive, omnipresent discrimination, along with the heroic and ultimately triumphant struggle against second-class citizenship.
This narrative retains incalculable value. It reminds men and women that a shared past binds them together, even when distance and different circumstances and experiences create diverse interests. It also integrates black people’s history into an American story of seemingly inevitable progress. While recognizing the realities of black poverty and inequality, it nevertheless depicts the trajectory of black life moving along what Dr. King referred to as the “arc of justice,” in which exploitation and coercion yield, reluctantly but inexorably, to fairness and freedom.
Yet this story has had less direct relevance for black immigrants. Although new arrivals quickly discover the racial inequalities of American life for themselves, many—fleeing from poverty of the sort rarely experienced even by the poorest of contemporary black Americans and tyranny unknown to even the most oppressed—are quick to embrace a society that offers them opportunities unknown in their homelands. While they have subjected themselves to exploitation by working long hours for little compensation and underconsuming to save for the future (just as their native-born counterparts have done), they often ignore the connection between their own travails and those of previous generations of African-Americans. But those travails are connected, for the migrations that are currently transforming African-American life are directly connected to those that have transformed black life in the past. The trans-Atlantic passage to the tobacco and rice plantations of the coastal South, the 19th-century movement to the cotton and sugar plantations of the Southern interior, the 20th-century shift to the industrializing cities of the North and the waves of arrivals after 1965 all reflect the changing demands of global capitalism and its appetite for labor.
New circumstances, it seems, require a new narrative. But it need not—and should not—deny or contradict the slavery-to-freedom story. As the more recent arrivals add their own chapters, the themes derived from these various migrations, both forced and free, grow in significance. They allow us to see the African-American experience afresh and sharpen our awareness that African-American history is, in the end, of one piece.
Ira Berlin teaches at the University of Maryland. His 1999 study of slavery in North America, Many Thousands Gone, received the Bancroft Prize.
Adapted from The Making of African America, by Ira Berlin. © 2010. With the permission of the publisher, Viking, a member of the Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
African American History Month Resources
On June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, U.S. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, which informed the people of Texas that all enslaved people were now free. Granger commanded the Headquarters District of Texas, and his troops had arrived in Galveston the previous day. This day has come to be known as Juneteenth, a combination of June and 19th. It is also called Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, and it is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. On June 17, 2021,
President Joe Biden signed a bill into law establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
General Order No. 3, issued by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, June 19, 1865. The order was written in a volume beginning on one page and continuing to the next. (RG 393, Part II, Entry 5543, District of Texas, General Orders Issued)
The National Archives holds a wealth of material documenting the African American experience and highlights these resources online, in programs, and through traditional and social media.
Explore our records documenting African American History through the African American Research page and within the National Archives Catalog.
Featured Documents and Online Exhibits
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Rediscovering Black History: The blog of the Black History Guide, shares records relating to the African American experience at the National Archives
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Preservation at the National Archives Tumblr: MLK's Selective Service System Draft Card
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King Clip Reel
Nine short stories on Martin Luther King, Jr., produced by the USIA for Black History month. Stories include: King holiday wreath-laying at the Lincoln Memorial Jesse Jackson on MLK King/Civil Rights Reagan speaking to schoolchildren MLK bust unveiled at the Capitol Andrew Young reflects MLK celebration/Atlantaand MLK celebration/Washington, DC.
Martin Luther King Press Conference
Martin Luther King, Jr., was interviewed by four journalists for “Press Conference U.S.A.,” a U.S. Information Agency (USIA) series that was distributed internationally.
The March (1963, restored)
To mark the 50th anniversary of the March for Jobs and Freedom, the Motion Picture Preservation Lab completed a full digital restoration of James Blue's monumental film, The March, in 2008.
The March on Washington in Photographs
This Inside the Vaults video short follows the subject of the photograph, Edith Lee-Payne of Detroit, who celebrated her 12th birthday by attending the March on Washington with her mother.
"Civil Rights: Then and Now"
Highlights of the National Conversation on Rights and Justice in Atlanta in 2016. Moderated by Jelani William Cobb, contributing editor to the New Yorker and associate professor of history and the director of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut.
Names and labels
As Americans of African descent reached each new plateau in their struggle for equality, they reevaluated their identity. The slaveholder labels of black and negro (Spanish for black) were offensive, so they chose the euphemism coloured when they were freed. Capitalized, Negro became acceptable during the migration to the North for factory jobs. Afro-American was adopted by civil rights activists to underline pride in their ancestral homeland, but Black—the symbol of power and revolution—proved more popular. All these terms are still reflected in the names of dozens of organizations. To reestablish “cultural integrity” in the late 1980s, Jesse Jackson proposed African American, which—unlike some “baseless” colour label—proclaims kinship with a historical land base. In the 21st century the terms Black and African American both were widely used.
African American History Sites
African Americans at Jamestown - A timeline of how and when the civil rights of African-Americans were revoked, since their arrival in Jamestown in 1619 to the codification of slave laws in 1705 from the Colonial National Historical Park (National Park Service)
American Slave Narratives: An Online Anthology - Narratives of former slaves collected by the Work Project Administration (WPA) (University of Virginia)
Death or Liberty. Gabriel, Nat Turner, John Brown - An online exhibit focusing on three dramatic events in Virginia history, dealing with the problem of slavery (Library of Virginia)
History of African Methodism in Virginia or Four Decades in the Old Dominion - Documenting the American South (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries)
Monticello: To Labor for Another - Slavery at Monticello (Monticello: Home of Thomas Jefferson)
Race and Place: African American Community Histories - Race and Place: African American Community Histories
Rosenwald Schools - In 1915, Sears and Roebuck President, Julius Rosenwald, established a matching grant fund in his name to construct better schools for African-American students throughout the South. Between 1917 and 1932, his Fund assisted in the construction of over 5,000 school buildings.
Slave Life at Poplar Forest - (Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson's second home)
Strong Men and Women in Virginia History - (A joint project of the Library of Virginia and Dominion)
The Jackson Davis Collection of African-American Educational Photographs - A collection of approximately 5,500 negatives and prints recording the conditions of black schools in Virginia in the early part of the 20th century (University of Virginia)
Unknown No Longer - A digital database of the names of unpublished enslaved Virginians that appear in documents in VHS's collections.
Virginia Runaways - A digital database of runaway and captured slave and servant advertisements from 18th-century Virginia newspapers (University of Virginia)
Knowing the Past Opens the Door to the Future: The Continuing Importance of Black History MonthScurlock Studio Records, ca. 1905-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.
No one has played a greater role in helping all Americans know the black past than Carter G. Woodson, the individual who created Negro History Week in Washington, D.C., in February 1926. Woodson was the second black American to receive a PhD in history from Harvard—following W.E.B. Du Bois by a few years. To Woodson, the black experience was too important simply to be left to a small group of academics. Woodson believed that his role was to use black history and culture as a weapon in the struggle for racial uplift. By 1916, Woodson had moved to DC and established the “Association for the Study of Negro Life and Culture,” an organization whose goal was to make black history accessible to a wider audience. Woodson was a strange and driven man whose only passion was history, and he expected everyone to share his passion.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson, late 1940s
This impatience led Woodson to create Negro History Week in 1926, to ensure that school children be exposed to black history. Woodson chose the second week of February in order to celebrate the birthday of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It is important to realize that Negro History Week was not born in a vacuum. The 1920s saw the rise in interest in African American culture that was represented by the Harlem Renaissance where writers like Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglass Johnson, Claude McKay—wrote about the joys and sorrows of blackness, and musicians like Louie Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Jimmy Lunceford captured the new rhythms of the cities created in part by the thousands of southern blacks who migrated to urban centers like Chicago. And artists like Aaron Douglass, Richard Barthe, and Lois Jones created images that celebrated blackness and provided more positive images of the African American experience.
Woodson hoped to build upon this creativity and further stimulate interest through Negro History Week. Woodson had two goals. One was to use history to prove to white America that blacks had played important roles in the creation of America and thereby deserve to be treated equally as citizens. In essence, Woodson—by celebrating heroic black figures—be they inventors, entertainers, or soldiers—hoped to prove our worth, and by proving our worth—he believed that equality would soon follow. His other goal was to increase the visibility of black life and history, at a time when few newspapers, books, and universities took notice of the black community, except to dwell upon the negative. Ultimately Woodson believed Negro History Week—which became Black History Month in 1976—would be a vehicle for racial transformation forever.
The question that faces us today is whether or not Black History Month is still relevant? Is it still a vehicle for change? Or has it simply become one more school assignment that has limited meaning for children. Has Black History Month become a time when television and the media stack their black material? Or is it a useful concept whose goals have been achieved? After all, few—except the most ardent rednecks - could deny the presence and importance of African Americans to American society or as my then-14 year old daughter Sarah put it, “I see Colin Powell everyday on TV, all my friends—black and white—are immersed in black culture through music and television. And America has changed dramatically since 1926—Is not it time to retire Black History Month as we have eliminated white and colored signs on drinking fountains?” I will spare you the three hour lesson I gave her.
I would like to suggest that despite the profound change in race relations that has occurred in our lives, Carter G. Woodson’s vision for black history as a means of transformation and change is still quite relevant and quite useful. African American history month, with a bit of tweaking, is still a beacon of change and hope that is still surely needed in this world. The chains of slavery are gone—but we are all not yet free. The great diversity within the black community needs the glue of the African American past to remind us of not just how far we have traveled but lo, how far there is to go.
While there are many reasons and examples that I could point towards, let me raise five concerns or challenges that African Americans — in fact — all Americans — face that black history can help address:
The Challenge of Forgetting
You can tell a great deal about a country and a people by what they deem important enough to remember, to create moments for — what they put in their museum and what they celebrate. In Scandinavia — there are monuments to the Vikings as a symbol of freedom and the spirit of exploration. In Germany during the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis celebrated their supposed Aryan supremacy through monument and song. While America traditionally revels in either Civil War battles or founding fathers. Yet I would suggest that we learn even more about a country by what it chooses to forget — its mistakes, its disappointments, and its embarrassments. In some ways, African American History month is a clarion call to remember. Yet it is a call that is often unheeded.
Let’s take the example of one of the great unmentionable in American history — slavery. For nearly 250 years slavery not only existed but it was one of the dominant forces in American life. Political clout and economic fortune depended on the labor of slaves. And the presence of this peculiar institution generated an array of books, publications, and stories that demonstrate how deeply it touched America. And while we can discuss basic information such as the fact that in 1860 — 4 million blacks were enslaved, and that a prime field hand cost $1,000, while a female, with her childbearing capability, brought $1,500, we find few moments to discuss the impact, legacy, and contemporary meaning of slavery.
In 1988, the Smithsonian Institution, about to open an exhibition that included slavery, decided to survey 10,000 Americans. The results were fascinating — 92% of white respondents felt slavery had little meaning to them — these respondents often said “my family did not arrive until after the end of slavery.” Even more disturbing was the fact that 79% of African Americans expressed no interest or some embarrassment about slavery. It is my hope that with greater focus and collaboration Black History Month can stimulate discussion about a subject that both divides and embarrasses.
As a historian, I have always felt that slavery is an African American success story because we found ways to survive, to preserve our culture and our families. Slavery is also ripe with heroes, such as slaves who ran away or rebelled, like Harriet Tubman or Denmark Vessey, but equally important are the forgotten slave fathers and mothers who raised families and kept a people alive. I am not embarrassed by my slave ancestors I am in awe of their strength and their humanity. I would love to see the African American community rethink its connection to our slave past. I also think of something told to me by a Mr. Johnson, who was a former sharecropper I interviewed in Georgetown, SC:
The Challenge of Preserving a People’s Culture
While the African American community is no longer invisible, I am unsure that as a community we are taking the appropriate steps to ensure the preservation of African American cultural patrimony in appropriate institutions. Whether we like it or not, museums, archives, and libraries not only preserves culture they legitimize it. Therefore, it is incumbent of African Americans to work with cultural institutions to preserve their family photography, documents, and objects. While African Americans have few traditions of giving material to museums, it is crucial that more of the black past make it into American cultural repositories.
A good example is the Smithsonian, when the National Museum of American History wanted to mount an exhibition on slavery, it found it did not have any objects that described slavery. That is partially a response to a lack of giving by the African American Community. This lack of involvement also affects the preservation of black historic sites. Though there has been more attention paid to these sites, too much of our history has been paved over, gone through urban renewal, gentrified, or unidentified, or un-acknowledged. Hopefully a renewed Black History Month can focus attention on the importance of preserving African American culture.
There is no more powerful force than a people steeped in their history. And there is no higher cause than honoring our struggle and ancestors by remembering.
The Challenge of Maintaining a Community
As the African American Community diversifies and splinters, it is crucial to find mechanisms and opportunities to maintain our sense of community. As some families lose the connection with their southern roots, it is imperative that we understand our common heritage and history. The communal nature of black life has provided substance, guidance, and comfort for generations. And though our communities are quite diverse, it is our common heritage that continues to hold us together.
The Power of Inspiration
One thing has not changed. That is the need to draw inspiration and guidance from the past. And through that inspiration, people will find tools and paths that will help them live their lives. Who could not help but be inspired by Martin Luther King’s oratory, commitment to racial justice, and his ultimate sacrifice. Or by the arguments of William and Ellen Craft or Henry “Box” Brown who used great guile to escape from slavery. Who could not draw substance from the creativity of Madame CJ Walker or the audacity and courage of prize fighter Jack Johnson. Or who could not continue to struggle after listening to the mother of Emmitt Till share her story of sadness and perseverance. I know that when life is tough, I take solace in the poetry of Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, or Gwendolyn Brooks. And I find comfort in the rhythms of Louie Armstrong, Sam Cooke or Dinah Washington. And I draw inspiration from the anonymous slave who persevered so that the culture could continue.
Let me conclude by re-emphasizing that Black History Month continues to serve us well. In part because Woodson’s creation is as much about today as it is about the past. Experiencing Black History Month every year reminds us that history is not dead or distant from our lives.
Rather, I see the African American past in the way my daughter’s laugh reminds me of my grandmother. I experience the African American past when I think of my grandfather choosing to leave the South rather than continue to experience share cropping and segregation. Or when I remember sitting in the back yard listening to old men tell stories. Ultimately, African American History — and its celebration throughout February — is just as vibrant today as it was when Woodson created it 85 years ago. Because it helps us to remember there is no more powerful force than a people steeped in their history. And there is no higher cause than honoring our struggle and ancestors by remembering.
Take a quick look at the overview video for African-American History:
Covering more than 500 years of the African-American experience, African-American History offers a fresh way to explore the full spectrum of African-American history and culture. Users can start their investigation of a topic with a video or slideshow overview, use the key content called out on the home page to find an entryway into the database, or dig deep into a subject or era through the Topic Centers. Read about key figures and events, examine famous speeches and other primary sources, and get context from the in-depth timelines. An important feature is the full cross-searchability across all the Infobase history databases for an even more comprehensive view of history.
- Comprehensive Coverage: With African-American History, students can delve deep into their topics or examine different perspectives through event and topic entries, slideshows, primary sources, images, tablet/mobile-friendly videos, general and topic-specific timelines, biographies of key people, original maps and charts, and more.
- Easy Access to Content: Featured content in African-American History is handpicked by our editors to inform research and provide guided entryways into the database, plus convenient links to key areas are at the top of every page.
- Editorially Curated Topic Centers:African-American History features specially selected content—including articles, sharable slideshows, videos, primary sources, and more—that provides a study guide for a particular subject or era.
- Abolitionist Movement
- Underground Railroad
- Emancipation Proclamation
- Great Black Migrations
- Harlem Renaissance
- Civil Rights Act of 1964
- African-American Heritage
- Black Contributions to America
- Landmark Court Cases
- Africa, Colonization, and the Slave Trade: Beginnings–1819
- Compromise and Conflict over Slavery: 1820–1860
- The Civil War and Reconstruction: 1861–1876
- Segregation, Migration and the Beginnings of Protest: 1877–1928
- The Great Depression and the New Deal: 1929–1940
- World War II and the Start of Desegregation: 1941–1954
- Civil Rights Protest and Progress: 1955–1971
- Expansion of Opportunities: 1972–Present.
- Suggested Research Topics: Each Topic Center in African-American History includes handpicked selections showcasing the best resources for each topic—including in-depth overview essays—and providing guidance for research.
- Primary Sources:African-American History includes hundreds of primary sources, many with introductions that provide context and background—perfect for document-based learning and strengthening critical-thinking skills.
- Videos, Images, Maps, and Slideshows:African-American History’s videos and original, SMART Board–friendly slideshows provide a fascinating visual look into topics, reinforcing visual learning, stimulating interest, and providing convenient overviews and discussion starter material.
- Biographies: Under “Featured People,” African-American History includes helpful lists of civil rights activists, trailblazing military figures, abolition leaders, Harlem Renaissance figures, major musicians, leading scientists, and influential writers. Each list includes dates of birth and death, a brief descriptor of the person’s achievements, and a link to relevant search results.
- Pro/Con Articles: Editorially selected articles on many high-interest controversies in history can be found in African-American History, enabling researchers to grasp the essence and importance of every conflict and the reasons Americans debated them.
- Overview Essays:African-American History includes substantial and thorough overview essays giving extensive background on relevant historical topics and eras.
- Book Chapters: Chapters from authoritative print titles written by noted historians complement the thousands of encyclopedia entries, biographies, definitions, and other resources African-American History provides. Book Chapters allow for original thinking and are ideal for an in-depth study of a topic.
- Authoritative Source List:African-American History features a complete inventory, by type, of the extraordinary amount of expertly researched and written content in the database, including articles from a wealth of award-winning proprietary and distinguished print titles, primary sources, images, videos, timelines, and a list of contributors to the database—information researchers can trust.
- Curriculum Tools: This section of African-American History features writing and research tips for students and educators, including:
- Advice on analyzing and understanding editorial cartoons, primary sources, and online sources
- Guides for presenting research, including avoiding plagiarism, citing sources, completing a primary source worksheet, summarizing articles, and writing research papers
- Educator tools, including advice on preventing plagiarism and using editorial cartoons in class.
- Search by Common Core, national, state, provincial, International Baccalaureate Organization, C3 Framework for Social Studies, College Board AP standards to find correlating articles
- Supports 1:1 initiatives, blended instruction, flipped classrooms, project-based learning, and document-based question environments
- Convenient A-to-Z topic lists
- Tag “clouds” for all content, linking to related material
- Searchable timelines, including a detailed general timeline, updated monthly, plus subject-specific and era-specific timelines
- Maps and graphs with descriptions
- Real-time, searchable Reuters® newsfeed
- Share content to Google Classroom
- Save content directly to Google Drive
- Single sign-on with Google or Microsoft
- Google Sign-In allows users to easily access content with their Google credentials
- A variety of integration options and partners, including Schoology, Canvas, itslearning, and D2L (Desire2Learn)
- Dynamic citations in MLA, Chicago, APA, and Harvard formats, with EasyBib and NoodleTools export functionality
- Read Aloud tool
- Ability for users to set preferences for default language, citation format, number of search results, and standards set for correlations
- Persistent record links
- Search Assist technology
- Searchable Support Center with valuable help materials, how-to tips, tutorials, and live help chat
- Google Translate for 100+ languages.
Library Journal Best Databases, “Best for High Schoolers” category
“…authoritative…very useful for students, teachers, and librarians.”
American Reference Books Annual
“…browseable and attractive…very useful…a gorgeous update on an already superlative…database.”
“…highly recommended for small and medium-sized public, academic, and school libraries…easy to use…extremely student-friendly.”
“…offers a tremendous amount of information on the African American experience over the last 500 years…Clearly organized and easy to use, this is an excellent resource for student research.”
“This is a very thorough online subject encyclopedia…The breadth and coverage make this a definite recommendation…”
“…pulls together a variety of material and packages it into one attractive resource.”
“…ambitiously aims to explore all aspects of the African American experience, from the past to the present…with impressive results. Even obscure topics ignored by other resources are covered here…makes some insightful connections…an excellent resource for school and public libraries and is highly recommended for them.”
“…a thorough subject encyclopedia in coverage…the synergy of all the various components…provides students and researchers with a rich web of information.”
Electronic Resources Review
“…a detailed overview…contains a vast amount of information…effective for research in a social studies class.”
African American Museum of Beginnings in Pomona takes visitors through timeline of history
POMONA, Calif. (KABC) -- Walking through the African American Museum of Beginnings in Pomona, you'll find everything from old newspapers, to records, paintings and even artifacts. The museum takes visitors through a timeline of African American history.
Co-founders Victoria and Khalif Rasshan found that Juneteenth and its significance in American history is a story unknown to so many.
Juneteenth, or June 19, commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. And just this week, the House passed a bill that would make the day a federal holiday. President Joe Biden is scheduled to sign the bill into law Thursday.
Although confederate soldiers surrendered in April of 1865, it took several months before enslaved African Americans in Texas were told the news: They were free.
"We did not get the memo that we were emancipated," said Khalif.
WATCH | What to know about the Juneteenth flag
Red, white and blue are the colors of the American flag, but they also grace the face of another quintessential American banner: the official Juneteenth flag.
Now in its 10th year, the retired school teachers say the African American Museum of Beginnings began as a Black history project.
"When February rolled around we were like, we have to do something and so the district was gracious to provide this space for us. And we thought it was going to be two or three months," said Victoria.
Recognizing a need for this space in their community, it has grown into what it is today -- offering book clubs, children's reading circles, arts and crafts, and much more.
Nearly 80% of the items in the museum have been donated. Victoria and Khalif say their purpose is to serve, telling the story of Juneteenth and educating the community on the rich history of African Americans.
"The purpose was that so children in our community could come and learn about African American history, and the community," said Victoria.
Legends of America
Historic African Americans:
Patriots of Color at the Battle of Bunker Hill in the American Revolution.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
— Declaration of Independence
Bass Reeves, U.S. Deputy Marshal
Dutch ship landing in Virginia with African Americans in 1619.
African Americans, one of the largest of the many ethnic groups in the United States, are largely the descendants of slaves.
Most African Americans today are descended from various ethnic groups, mostly from western and central Africa where they were captured in African wars or raids and transported in the Atlantic slave trade. Though they came with varied customs, religious beliefs, and language, European standards and ideals were forced upon them once they arrived in America.
The first Africans in the New World arrived with Spanish and Portuguese explorers and settlers and assisted in the early exploration of the Americas. In 1581, the Spanish in St. Augustine, Florida imported the first enslaved Africans into what would become the United States. In 1619, 20 African captives were sold to settlers at Point Comfort, today’s Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia, 30 miles downstream from Jamestown, Virginia. The colonists treated these captives as indentured servants and released them after a number of years. However, this practice was gradually replaced by the system of race-based slavery used in the Caribbean. Soon, more African captives were brought to America in increasing numbers to fill the desire for labor in a country where land was plentiful and labor was scarce.
Massachusetts was the first colony to legalize slavery in 1641. Attempts to hold black servants beyond the normal term of indenture culminated in the legal establishment of black chattel slavery in Virginia in 1661 and in all the English colonies by 1750. Other colonies followed suit by passing laws that passed slavery on to the children of slaves and making non-Christian imported servants slaves for life. This principle prevailed in the English colonies even though they would later win their independence and articulated national ideals in direct opposition to slavery.
However, during this time, some blacks gained their freedom, acquired property, and gained access to American society. Many moved to the North, where slavery, although still legal, was less of a presence. By 1790 slave and free blacks numbered almost 760,000 and made up nearly one-fifth of the population of the United States.
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery and escaped to spend his life fighting for justice and equality for all people.
By the early 1800s, many whites and free blacks in Northern states began to call for the abolition of slavery. Frederick Douglass, a young black slave who was taught to read by his master’s wife in Baltimore, Maryland escaped to Massachusetts in 1838. There, he became a powerful writer, editor, and lecturer for the growing abolitionist movement. By 1840, abolitionists in Britain and the United States developed large, complex propaganda campaigns against slavery. As the nation split between Southern slave and Northern free states prior to the Civil War, the Underground Railroad spirited thousands of escaped slaves from the South to the North.
When the Civil War began, many Northern free blacks and runaway slaves from the South volunteered to fight for the Union, hoping to liberate their people across the nation. When President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, it changed the status of three million African Americans in the South from “slave” to “free.” This drastically increased the number of runaway slaves, many of whom joined with the Union forces. By the time the war ended in 1865, about 200,000 black men had served as soldiers in the U.S. Army and Navy. Forty thousand black soldiers died in the war: 10,000 in battle and 30,000 from illness or infection.
Freedmen voting in New Orleans, 1867.
After the Union victory over the Confederacy, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 made African Americans full U.S. citizens and Reconstruction began to bring the South back into the Union. Over the next five years, the 11 states of the Confederacy were readmitted into the Union and some strides were made toward equal rights for African-Americans. During these years, Blacks established their own churches, schools, towns, and businesses. Tens of thousands migrated to Mississippi for the chance to clear and own their own land, as 90% of the bottomlands were undeveloped. The 15th amendment, ratified in 1870, extended the right to vote to black males and soon African Americans were elected to Congress and other public offices.
But, all was not well, as many Southerners soon reacted to black emancipation. When Northern troops left in 1877, the white power structure returned and the Ku Klux Klan organized terrorist raids, lynchings, and burned homes, schools, and churches. Within a couple of decades, this power structure succeeded in completely suppressing blacks who were excluded from voting by intimidation, and lived under constant threat of violence. Southern states wrote Jim Crow laws that segregated blacks from white society.
Beginning in the 1890s, many African Americans started moving North. This migration pattern became more pronounced as some six million blacks moved from rural areas of the South to northern and western cities between 1916 and 1970 during what was called the Great Migration. During this time, World War I opened many factory jobs and in the 1920s, strict new laws drastically cut European immigration, which created a demand for industrial workers in the Northern cities. Still suppressed by segregation, more Southern blacks continued to migrate northward in increasing numbers, eagerly taking unskilled jobs in meatpacking plants, steel mills, and on auto assembly lines in Chicago, Omaha, and Detroit.
Martin Luther King Jr., during the Civil Rights era.
The American Civil Rights Movement began in the 1950s using nonviolence and passive resistance to change discriminatory laws and practices, primarily in the South. The movement awakened the country’s conscience to the plight of African Americans, who had long been denied first-class citizenship. As a result, increases in median income and college enrollment among the black population were dramatic in the late 20th century, which led to wider access to professional and business opportunities and noteworthy political victories.
"When Garland ISD was founded in 1901, there were no schools for African American children. Schools for black children in Garland began showing up prior to 1920, eventually leading to official public schools such as the Garland Colored School, Garland Negro School and ultimately the George Washington Carver School. This film attempts to tell the partial story of some of the students and staff who attended and worked at these schools through complete GISD integration in 1970."
"With $900,000 in floor-to-ceiling renovations, Carver Senior Center is the perfect blend of history and a modern service to residents. Just ask our Congressman, City Council or, most importantly, our seniors, including the alumni who once walked the grounds as students at George Washington Carver School. View the true joy of the grand re-opening at 222 Carver St."
Garland Library Displays
"A Glimpse of African American History in Garland"
An exhibit in two parts
February 10-March 31, 2021
February 10 - March 13, 2021
North Garland Branch Library Exhibit: Church
There will be pictures of the history of the church and anniversary books. Sims Chapel Baptist Church is the oldest church organized in Garland, 1915.
Walnut Creek Branch Library Exhibit: The Colored School and Business
Sims was the location of the first school to educate Colored students. Colored school history, along with pictures of the early class and principal are on display. There were Colored business owners in the Flats, which serviced the residents living there as well as others in the West End, Rural areas and others who came to work in Garland. The students who attended the school had a place to go to get food at lunch if they did not bring lunch from home. We have included a few of the business, "just a glimpse".
South Garland Branch Library Exhibit: G.W. Carver School and all related items.
The second location of the Colored school was in downtown Garland known as the "Flats". Pictures and history will connect the Colored school to the building of the new school named George Washington Carver. In this section will be pictures of new school in the 50&aposs, history of G.W. Carver, picture of the basketball teams, football team, cheerleaders, a copy of the only year book published for the school and a copy on display of the DVD on education of African Americans in GISD- Separate But Equal.
March 13 - March 31, 2021
South Garland Branch Library Exhibit: Carver Alumni Programs and Services Organization History and activities
The History of the Carver Alumni Programs and Services, Inc. (CAPS) which was established in July, 2001. This section includes pictures of the organizers, and there involvement in the community, events and connection to the new Garland Carver Elementary School. (T-shirts, mugs).
&bull George Washington Carver Elementary School History and CAPS involvement
The Carver Alumni Program and Services (CAPS) organizations have maintained close ties to the George Washington Carver Elementary School located at 2200 Wynn Joyce Road, Garland. The history of the school and 10th Anniversary celebration has been included. Again T-shirts that celebrate the 10th anniversary, and other special moments.
&bull Carver Senior Center History, activities and CAPS involvement
"CAPS" has also been active, involved and supportive of the Carver Senior Center located at the corner of Carver Street and Clark Street. Information on the history of the Senior Center, along with pictures of events, and CAPS role in the Grand Reopening of the center on July 10, 2019. Congressman Colin Allred came prior to the opening to see the progress made by the city. Members of CAPS were present, along with city officials past and present. A picture decal on one of the walls is a reminder of the history of George Washington Carver School.
Walnut Creek Branch Library Exhibit: Black Community Leaders- 1950&aposs- 1970&aposs
The last glimpse of African American history and contributions to the city is the area of Civic and political service in and to the city. We have included a few of the civic leaders who served between the 1940&aposs to the 60&aposs. Then we took a look at the elected African Americans officials, who have and continue to serve in some capacity in the community as leaders.
North Garland Branch Library Exhibit: Civic Service (which includes community and elected leaders)
We have included a few of the civic leaders who served between the 1940&aposs to the 60&aposs. Then we took a look at the elected African Americans officials, who have and continue to serve in some capacity in the community as leaders.
African American History Resources
"The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society."
"Black History Month is here and we are thrilled to share a host of documentaries and digital shorts that highlight the richness of the Black experience in American history. Here are previews of films premiering this month on PBS, as well as a dozen films you can stream to celebrate Black history."
"We invite you to explore the PBS Black Culture Connection: Your resource and guide to the films, stories and voices across public television centered around Black history and culture. Explore. Watch. Connect!"
"The National Archives hold a wealth of material documenting the Black experience. This page highlights these resources online, in programs, and through traditional and social media."
"The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country&rsquos history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative." Requires a free New York Times Magazine account.
Watch the video: Φλερτ - Ιστορία Αφροαμερικανών μέσα από τον κινηματογράφο