In honor of Black History Month, Christian rapper Lecrae — whose highly praised three-part mixtape series Church Clothes carries his powerful message of faith — reflects on the nation’s rich past and the importance of learning it. Read his gospel below.
Napoleon, the famous French military leader, is quoted as having said, “History is a fable agreed upon.”
As Americans we have seen how our history has had its lion’s share of overlooked errors and left out facts.
From the details surrounding the “discovery” of America, to the actual horrors behind our beloved Thanksgiving holiday, many historical facts have been excluded for a more palatable look at the past.
There is of course a difference between documenting history and using the past to shame people. I’m sure no one on God’s green earth enjoys hearing his past failures and transgressions glorified.
When I look back at the history of black Americans I’m met with mixed emotions. There is the joy of progress and the gratefulness for a divine gift of endurance. Then of course there is also pain, due to the revealed ugliness of our history and the burn of what has been left out.
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Daryl Michael Scott, Professor of History at Howard University, documents that Dr. Carter G. Woodson decided in 1926 that the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History would elevate knowledge of black history.
Since the late 1890s, black communities have celebrated the lives of Fredrick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln during February. Being cognizant of this, Woodson built Negro History Week around this commemoration.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, Black History Month has transformed into trivial acknowledgements in commercials simply to gain “black dollars.” Sidebar lessons in grammar schools are far too often limited to acknowledging one of the “first black inventors, George Washington Carver.” Although great, it’s simply not enough.
Dig deeper, however, and you will find that by and large contributions to this country by blacks have been left out or manipulated for various reasons.
Black people were not given a seat at the table to give an account of this country’s history.
Blacks were stolen from Africa, not treated as a high cultured group of people with infinite worth, but as beasts with no rights.
Would one give a documented account of the horses that rode them into victory? History argues no.
When black people have been regarded as “less than” for hundreds of years, that leaves a lot of stories untold and facts left out.
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For instance, the first black man to perform a successful open-heart surgery, Daniel Hale, was actually the first person to do it.
Jim Beckworth, the frontiersman and trapper, does not have any pages in the history books next to Daniel Boone. There are hundreds of thousands of black soldiers who aren’t found anywhere in our nation’s historical record. Perhaps the writers didn’t think them worth mentioning.
Black people have been at the bottom and on the fringes of America’s melting pot for centuries. But, as any cook knows, if the pot isn’t stirred, the bottom and fringes get burned.
Black history is a rich one that all Americans need to know and embrace. It’s our collective history. Our past shouldn’t be a weapon of shame but a tool to help us learn, heal and progress.
When history is told accurately, it is no longer “a fable agreed upon,” but a reality from which to grow.