Historiography against History: The Propaganda of History and the Struggle for the Hearts and Minds of Black Folk
In his 1968 presidential address to the Organization of American Historians, Thomas Bailey stated, “False historical beliefs are so essential to our culture.... How different our national history would be if countless millions of our citizens had not been brought up to believe in the manifestly destined superiority ... of the white race.”1 However, in this same speech, Bailey warned of the new corrective history recently appearing. Of these African-American historians he asserted, with alarm, that “newly formed hyphenated groups ... are now understandably clamoring for historical recognition ... insisting on visibility, if not over-visibility, in the textbooks.”2 In this paper, we will attempt to place these false historical beliefs and writings and the Black response to them, which Bailey feared, within a theoretical paradigm of “schools” of historiography.
In the last chapter of his definitive work, Black Reconstruction, W.E.B. Du Bois called these false historical beliefs “propaganda,” which he traced to certain Columbia University faculty such as John W. Burgess and William A. Dunning.3 This ideological/propagandist racist history writing became a battleground for the hearts and minds of both White and Black America. The hallowed ground of Gettysburg, Bull Run, Vicksburg, and other Civil War battlefields became institutionalized in the American Historical Association (AHA) through the rapprochement between its northern and southern White “founders,” many of whom either had fought in the war or had strong memories of it.4 By the 1884 founding of the AHA, most White southerners agreed that the war closed a chapter in southern history and, with the “betrayal of the Negro,”5 set the stage for a quid pro quo with northerners based on the understanding that, in the words of Virginia Senator John W. Daniel, “The instinct of race integrity is the most glorious, as it is the predominant, characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon race; the sections (North and South) have it in common.”6
This sentiment expressed the reunion, reaction, and reconciliation of White America based on the ideology of racism and exploitation of the Black peasant and working classes.7 Reunion and the South’s reaction to Black freedom were in part a byproduct of the process underlying the Union military victory.8 The struggle over a certain type of freedom for the freed people intensified White supremacy in popular culture9 and also in scholarly/educational circles. Important members of the AHA led this “pouring” of the cement.10 John Burgess noted that “a black skin means membership in a race of men which has never of itself succeeded in subjecting passion to reason and therefore [has] have never created any civilization of any kind.” William A. Dunning observed that Blacks “had no pride of race and no aspiration or ideals save to be like the whites.” Prominent AHA member Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer remarked that northerners should support southern home rule and creation of the shadow of slavery with Jim Crow, peonage, and the chain gang because naïve northerners “have never seen a nigger except Fred Douglass.” Even Du Bois’s Harvard mentor, Albert Bushnell Hart, argued:
The negroes as a people have less self-control, are less affected by ultimate advantages, are less controlled by family ties and standards of morality, than the average even of those poor white people, immigrants or natives, who have the poorest chance.... Race measured by race, the Negro is inferior, and his past history in Africa, and in America leads to the belief that he will remain inferior.
However virulently racist the above quotes are, they were driven by the way many historians viewed the salient events of American Slavery, Civil War, and Reconstruction. Racist historiography of these events began with the 1918 publication of American Negro Slavery by U.B. Phillips and continued with his 1929 work, Life and Labor in the Old South. The contemporary critic, David Novick, notes that Phillips, in his own words, saw the slaves as innately “submissive,” “light-hearted,” “amiable,” “ingratiating,” and “imitative.” Because Phillips unearthed primary documents of plantation records coupled with his racist assumptions, his interpretation of these documents went unchallenged. Subsequent historians solidified this racist view; for example, Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager, in their 1930 book The Growth of the American Republic, included the following remarks about slavery:
Sambo, whose wrongs moved the abolitionists to wrath and tears... suffered less than any other class in the South from its “peculiar institution.” The majority of the slaves were apparently happy.... There was much to be said for slavery as a transition from barbarism to civilization....11
The majority of the slaves were adequately fed, well cared for.... Although brought to America by force, the incurably optimistic negro soon became attached to the country and devoted to his “white folks.”12
We characterize these collective writings as defining the White Supremacist School of historical interpretation. The three major points of this school’s view are as follows: 1) slavery was a positive development for Blacks; 2) the Civil War was a glorious and honorable event concerning “states’ rights” and was not about slavery; 3) Reconstruction, defined in Claude Bowers’ 1929 book The Tragic Era, was a god-forsaken attempt to humiliate the civilized White South by putting it under the heels of a barbarous Black South. To prevent this ridiculous folly, the Ku Klux Klan appeared and “Redeemed” the South and therefore created the “Birth of a [racist and new American] Nation.”13
This denigration of the Black experience was aggressively challenged by W.E.B. Du Bois and Carter G. Woodson. Refuting the White supremacists’ views of Africa, Du Bois, in 1915, published The Negro and Woodson published The African Background Outlined.14 These early works conveyed an inspirational view of the African past. With these two Black titans of scholarship, there developed under Woodson’s leadership what we call the Negro History School of historical interpretation. This school emphasizes the “contributions” that Blacks have made to the “westward movement” of the American saga. However, Woodson strongly felt that the “struggle for the hearts and minds of Black folk” and, incidentally, of White folk, depended on the ability to scientifically reject racist history by challenging its falsehoods via objective, scholarly, and informative writing about Blacks and their contributions. His definitive 1933 work, The Mis-Education of the Negro,15 was published with this object in mind. Over the next sixty years, there appeared two other “schools” to challenge the White supremacist historians. One was the Black History School which, driven by its criticism of America, called for indicting its racist icons for “crimes against Black humanity.”16 Within this school, we will examine the Black Women’s History School. Last, we analyze the Marxist History School which uses dialectical materialism to clarify the trajectory of racism and class oppression in American history. The glue that held these “schools” together was the understanding, in the words of Herbert Aptheker, that “History’s potency is mighty. The oppressed need it for identity and inspiration; [and the] oppressor for justification, rationalization, and legitimacy. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the history writing on the American Negro people.”17
We will examine these three schools which we have termed the Black Intellectual Resistance Movement (BIRM) by focusing on 1) the historical philosophy of Carter G. Woodson, father of Negro History School (who became prominent and accepted the challenge put forth by Langston Hughes’s “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”); 2) the Black History School and its sub-fields, Black Women’s History School and the Afro-Centrist School – the latter of which became prominent with its responses to Stanley’s Elkins’ Sambo Thesis, produced the book The Secret Relations Between Blacks and Jews,18 and criticized William Styron’s racist novel The Confessions of Nat Turner;19 and 3) the Marxist History School with its critique of U.B. Phillips, its re-interpretation of Elkins’ Sambo Thesis, and its criticism of the Afrocentrists. In conclusion, we will explain how the development of Black Studies within the “academy” helped to institutionalize the Black Intellectual Resistance Movement.
The Negro History School
Dr. Carter G. Woodson (Harvard Ph.D.) initiated his assault on the White supremacist school with his 1916 launching of the Journal of Negro History and the Negro History Bulletin. The Journal was meant for scholars and the Bulletin for lay people, including high school and undergraduate students. Woodson had set up an institutional base for these periodicals in 1915 by founding the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. In 1926 he initiated the national campaign to celebrate Black history through annual Negro History Week observances. He purposely chose the second week in February between the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. He explained that the Association’s aim in publicizing the records, contributions, and accomplishments of Black people “is not spectacular propaganda or fire-eating agitation. Nothing can be accomplished in such fashion …. The aim of this organization is to set forth facts in scientific form; facts properly set forth will tell their own story.”20
However, Woodson did depart from this approach in 1933 with his book, The Mis-Education of the Negro, which was a diatribe against the college-educated strata of the Black bourgeoisie institutionalized in “Negro” colleges and universities. Woodson accused this select social class of almost embracing the White higher education curriculum instead of curricula consonant with his “Negro History School” approach. By doing this, the Black bourgeoisie was not preparing the younger educated generation for “race leadership.” Woodson strongly felt that White historiography, even when taught in most Black educational institutions:
...further assured [the white man] of his superiority and if the Negro could be made to feel that he had always been a failure and that the subjection of his will to some other race is necessary, the freedman, then, would still be a slave. If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action…. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one. 21
W.E.B Du Bois supported Woodson on this issue and opened up the pages of the Crisis for Woodson’s platform.22 A companion group of scholars who helped popularize the contribution approach to Negro History was the “organic intellectuals” known as “street scholars.”23 These street scholars did not work in colleges or universities and were un-credentialed, but they wrote and published their own history of Black contributions. First and foremost among them was J.A. Rogers. His work, From Superman to Man and 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro, 24 is still being quoted and used today.
Essentially, Woodson’s “Negro” history approach emphasized Black contributions to the American saga embodied in Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too, Sing America” or Benjamin Quarles’ observation that Negro history “should be a bridge to intergroup harmony,”25
The Black History School
In contrast to Woodson, W.E.B. Du Bois, the “Father of Black History,” became a career critic of America and leaned in the direction of indicting its leaders for high crimes against Black humanity, as when he signed the U.N. petition, “We Charge Genocide: The Crimes of Government Against the Negro People.”26 Vincent Harding noted of Du Bois’s criticism: “Du Bois said that Blacks were like [train] passengers who had spent all of their time and energies protesting while trying to prove to their fellow passengers and to the conductor that they had a right to be on the American train. Indeed, he said that we had given so much of our attention to this task that we had never bothered to ask about the train’s destination.”27 Finally, said Du Bois, after a few protesters had been seated and some of the immediate attacks had died down, some Black passengers began to ask, “Where, by the way, is this train going?” Harding answers Du Bois’s query by stating that no one really knew the train’s destination and that the protestors “wondered if we really wanted to go, especially if our destination would always be determined by the people who had fought for centuries to keep us off, or confined to the Negro car."28
The Black History approach is always questioning which direction America is heading and whether Black folk should follow. Du Bois, a Black titan of BIRM, was born in 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, received his B.A. from Fisk University, and became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University. Du Bois understood the class question within African American social relations and the political economy of racism. His dissertation at Harvard was on the “Suppression of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade,” and his first major work after this dissertation was his book The Philadelphia Negro. This 1899 work established Du Bois as having great empathy for the Black proletariat in the urban crucible. Soon after this publication, Du Bois established and defined the idea of Black History “engaged scholars” as “public activist scholars” by his involvement in the Niagara Movement and the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1908. Both organizations fought racism and political oppression by public displays of unity against racist acts and against Jim Crow laws. The Black Intellectual Resistance Movement took on the important cultural dimension when the NAACP appointed Du Bois as editor of its magazine, The Crisis.
As editor, Du Bois used the power of the third estate to harangue racist politicians and their unjust laws, but he also created a literary section which printed the “gifts of Black folk” in song, poetry, art, and music. Du Bois’s aim was to create visibility for the works of young Black intellectuals as outlined in his 1903 work Souls of Black Folk.29 However, his masterpiece of BIRM was his 1935 book, Black Reconstruction. Du Bois used a quasi-class analysis for the failure of Reconstruction and in the book’s final chapter, “The Propaganda of History,” leveled a scathing attack on the historiography of the White Supremacist School. Du Bois was a close friend and, at one time, office-mate of the Marxist historian, Herbert Aptheker. Out of this relationship Du Bois solidified his thinking on the class question for Black America and the political usage of history. The contemporary scholar of Black historians, Professor Earl R. Thorp, observed that Du Bois “shifted to a position where he felt it advisable consciously to forge propaganda himself out of historical and sociological facts … [,arguing that] ‘history is too often what we want it to be and what we are determined men shall believe rather than a grim record of what has taken place in the past.’”30
In his 1965 book, The World and Africa,31 Du Bois argued that the degradation of Black labor began with the discovery of the New World:
With this new world came fatally the African slave trade and Negro slavery in the Americas. There were new cruelties, new hatreds of human beings, and new degradations of human labor. The temptation to degrade human labor was made vaster and deeper by the incredible accumulation of wealth based on slave labor, by the boundless growth of greed…. 32
Du Bois became one of the first scholars to tie race to class because of the social relations of colonial imperialism. White colonial imperialism defined “The word ‘Negro’... used [it] for the first time in the world’s history to tie color to race and Blackness to slavery and degradation. The white race was pictured as ‘pure’ and superior; the black race as dirty, stupid, and inevitably, inferior…”33 Du Bois’s activism led to a collision with the more conservative NAACP over school integration in 1933. Du Bois argued that the NAACP should put more time and money into upgrading Black schools, Black curriculum, and Black teachers. This clash would lead to Du Bois being dismissed from the NAACP.
Du Bois had a long and distinguished career. He organized the first and subsequent meetings of the Pan African Congress which was important as a spark for African liberation (many of Africa’s young leaders attended the Fifth PAC in Manchester, England in 1944).34 Because he was both a race man and a class man, Du Bois can also be placed in the Marxist history school. In the fading years of his life, Du Bois declared himself a Communist. His career went from being a Negro historian and integrationist, to being a Pan Africanist activist, to being a Black historian, to becoming a Marxist intellectual. His concern for race and class became the dialectics of his intellectual journey.
The Black History School’s scholarship exploded in the 1960s with the publication of Julius Lester’s Look Out Whitey! Black Power’s Gon’ Get Your Mama!35 The book was both a Black history lesson on racist America and a contemporary analysis and condemnation of the doomed federal effort to support and protect the Civil Rights Movement and its leaders. The critical condemnation in the book addressed the inability of the FBI to protect civil rights workers from Klan brutalities. The FBI claimed that federalism prevented them from usurping the authority of racist state officials. Following Lester’s book, a number of later scholars used the word “Black” to denote their “school’s” perspective, e.g. Quintard Taylor, Black Seattle; Joe Trotter, Black Milwaukee; John Blassingame, Black New Orleans; and Mary Frances Berry, Black Resistance/White Law.36
The Black Women’s History School
Even though Black women were in the vanguard of the Civil Rights Movement, from the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Rosa Parks and Jo Ann Robinson) to Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Lester did not emphasize their importance. This lacuna had to await the arrival of Black Women historians, including both memoirists and academics.37 The density and breath of their historical writings justify placing them in a completely singular Black Women’s Historical School (BWHS). Because these Black women historians and writers focus on the triple oppression of race, class, and gender, their historiography cuts across the perspectives of the other “schools.”
Over the last half century, Black women historians have called attention to the neglect and mistreatment of Black women in both Black Studies and Women's Studies. As scholars have repeatedly demonstrated, African American women faced barriers that prevented them from living as freely or as fully as they may have wanted. These constraints included the “double burden” of racism and sexism as Black women have shouldered the private responsibilities of home along with the public needs of their community. This burden also included the disabling factor of class which systematically impacted their life choices, especially in work and education.
The study of black women has not only shattered the consensus vision that dominated historical writing, but has also generated a reappraisal of the enduring struggle by African Americans for human rights. From the 1890s though the first half of the 20th century, only a handful of Black women engaged in the writing of history. These self-taught “historians without portfolio” published historical scholarship and conducted rigorous historical research despite a lack of formal training.38 Among them was Drusilla Dunjee Houston (1876-1941), the first African American to author a multi-volume study of ancient Africa. Though not a college graduate, “street scholar” Houston’s keen intellect encouraged a life-long passion for the study of African culture. Prior to the Civil Rights Movement, Black women historians were compelled to provide “evidence” of their credentials in order to prove their legitimacy among both Black and White American scholars. The effort to gain these credentials was a monumental task for Black women who had even less access to degree-granting institutions than African American men or white women. The 20th century was well underway before Black female historians entered the historical profession. This was in part due to professionalization standards that since inception were white and overwhelmingly concerned with issues important to men. Black women’s intimate understanding of a history that had misrepresented and discriminated against them also made it difficult for even the most educated among them to escape the prevailing race- and gender-based assumptions that dominated the profession.39
Nevertheless, several Black women earned doctoral degrees prior to the Civil Rights Movement. In 1925, Anna Julia Cooper earned a doctorate in Latin at the Sorbonne in Paris. During World War II, three African American women earned doctorates. In 1940, Marion Thompson Wright earned a Ph.D. in History from Columbia University. Having written and published extensively on early 20th-century efforts at disarmament, Merze Tate earned a Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University and became a History professor at Howard University. In 1946, Helen Edmonds earned a doctorate in History from Ohio State University. While focusing on the Black experience in her dissertation, The Negro and Fusion Politics in North Carolina, Edmonds chose not to specialize in Black history, but to include it as an integral part of American history.40
The choice to pursue research on non-Black topics did not prevent Black female historians from confronting a different set of barriers in earning their degrees, securing jobs, receiving promotions, and gaining respect in academe. However, the formal educational success of this group demonstrates how a few Black women circumvented these limitations.41 The inaccessibility of the historical profession was strongly tied to the concept of objectivity, which Blacks were thought incapable of achieving. With writings on women so dominated by scientific racism and sexism during the early 20th century, race women who dared set the record straight about the lives of Black women were judged as partisan, subjective, and intuitive – all qualities antithetical to writing “real” history.42 In turn, the dilemma before many black women in this early period was what to do with a professional training in which sexism and racism defined their career options. Nearly a half-century would pass before a new generation of black women would prove themselves willing to take on these challenges.
As Pero Dagbovie notes, the 1980s were a fruitful decade in the maturation of African American women’s historiography. The presence of Black female historians at predominantly White institutions as professors and program directors is testimony to the change within academe over the last half-century. During these years African American women’s history built upon key historical studies and developed a professional network with the founding of the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH) in 1979. The ABWH was inspired by Carter G. Woodson’s Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (today called Association for the Study of African American Life and History). As Woodson’s association underwent a name change during the civil rights era,43 a generation of black women scholars emerged from the civil rights movement to re-envision a history that challenged prevailing assumptions about black women’s place in American society and culture while including race and gender in theoretical discussions of power and difference. Among this group were Toni Cade Bambara, Gloria Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, Barbara Smith, Sharon Harley, Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, Darlene Clark Hine, and Debra Gray White. The first generation of Black women since the Civil Rights movement to enter predominantly White colleges, they were also the first to teach and receive tenure from these institutions. Here they established a tradition for conceptualizing the racial and sexual politics that defined the lives of Black women in America for over a century and blazed a trail which has broadened our understanding of Black women beyond the fringes of American history. With emphasis on reinterpreting the American past to include a perspective that is both feminist and anti-racist, this group is part of the Black Women’s History School (BWHS), which critically analyzes the dominant cultural definitions of womanhood and their impact on the lives of black women.
In 1970, Toni Cade Bambara wrote the groundbreaking feminist compilation The Black Woman. Although not a professional historian, Bambara was a prominent voice within Black literature. Her writing and activism situated her among celebrated writers such as Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Gayl Jones, who depicted the world through the consciousness of Black women in new and arresting ways.44 A product of the Civil Rights, Black Power, and Women’s movements, The Black Woman was a response to the growing disillusionment of Black women with these movements and their inability to address their concerns. For Bambara, these concerns were represented by the dearth of Black female magazines and by the feminist movement’s almost exclusive focus on the lives of white, middle-class women. Skeptical of the consideration given Black women within academe, Bambara wrote:
I don’t know that literature enlightens us too much. The “experts” are still men, Black or white. And the images of the woman are still derived from their needs, their fantasies, their second-hand knowledge, their agreement with the other “experts.” But of course there have been women who have been able to think better than they’ve been trained and have produced the canon of literature fondly referred to as “feminist literature.” …And the question arises: how relevant are the truths, the experiences, the findings of white women to Black women?... I don’t know that our priorities are the same, that our concerns and methods are the same, or even similar enough so that we can afford to depend on this new field of experts ( white, female).45
The Black Woman was among the books that initiated a formal dialogue about the separate and distinct issues facing Black women. This dialogue produced new and innovative scholarship on the Black woman’s experience.
Published materials on Black women were scarce throughout the 1970s, but one work was critical in shaping the evolution of Black women's history, Sharon Harley and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn's path-breaking collection, The Afro-American Woman: Struggles and Images (1978).46 As the first book of historical essays on Black women, it encouraged an overdue revision of our understanding of the American experience. Its editors have been at the forefront of exploring black women’s experience in the areas of suffrage, women’s rights, and labor.
Harley is an Associate Professor and Chair of African American Studies at the University of Maryland. Her work focuses on Black women’s labor, racial, and gender politics. In her essay on "Northern Black Female Workers: Jacksonian Era," she explores the limits of Andrew Jackson's egalitarianism, which excluded White women and African Americans. In her discussion of the economic and social attitudes which kept Northern Black women in menial positions, Harley shows how the racial hostility of northern Whites offered few blacks any opportunity for social or economic advancement.47 In her second essay, on Anna Julia Cooper, Harley reveals that Cooper was an unusual woman for her time not because she was highly educated but because, unlike most Black women, she had the opportunity to cultivate her intellectual abilities.48 Having spent a lifetime struggling for Black access to education, Cooper affirmed the importance of women in the struggle for equality in her most noted work, A Voice from the South, By a Black Woman of the South.49
Professor of history and director of the history Ph.D. program at Morgan State University, Rosalyn Terborg-Penn earned a Ph.D. in Afro-American History from Howard University. A founding member of the Association of Black Women Historians, Penn has had a profound influence on the interpretive frameworks that have shaped the study of African American women. In The Afro-American Woman, she likewise has two essays. The first examines the discrimination faced by African American women in the women’s rights movement by both reformers and historians. The second essay argues that Black men viewed the “woman question” from several perspectives. While Black male leaders tended to be more sympathetic to women’s rights than White male leaders, some Black men tended to perceive racism as a more pressing problem than sexism.50 While known for her definitive work, African American Women and the Struggle for the Vote (1998),51 Terborg-Penn’s writings were shaped by the initial questions raised in The Afro-American Woman, particularly the political status of African American women and their activist leadership. Her other co-edited works include Women in Africa and the African Diaspora, Black Women's History: An Encyclopedia, and A Special Mission: The Story of the Freedmen’s Hospital.52
In 1982, a second collection of essays would significantly influence the conceptualization of Black Women’s Studies. The product of years of teaching and research, All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave53 was part of a new interpretation of Black women’s and social history. As evident by its title, the book spoke to the place Black women have traditionally held within academic circles. Winner of the Outstanding Women of Color Award and the Women Educator's Curriculum Material Award, But Some of Us Are Brave was among the first anthologies to offer materials for developing courses on Black women. It also initiated a discussion of the ways in which Black women began to think, research, write, and teach about themselves. Known for their activist scholarship, editors Gloria Akasha Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith, while not formally trained historians, all played a tremendous role in granting visibility to the study of Black women before it became a recognized field. Within Women’s Studies, each earned a place among the most serious thinkers on issues of race, gender and power.
Poet, writer, historian, critic, and editor, Gloria Akasha Hull is a Professor of Women’s Studies and Literature and the author of numerous works on influential Black women writers. Feminist literary critic Patricia Bell Scott is a Professor of Women’s Studies and Child and Family Development, the founding editor of SAGE: A Scholarly Journal on Women, a contributing editor to Ms. Magazine, and author of several books on contemporary Black women writers. The author of one of the anthology’s best-known essays and a defining document of the era, “A Black Feminist Statement,” Barbara Smith is a co-founder of the Combahee River Collective, a Black feminist consciousness-raising group based in Boston.54 This Collective called for destruction of the twin evils of capitalism and patriarchy and for the establishment of a feminist socialist society. With the Collective, Smith became an assertive voice on the writing and distribution of Black feminist literature. In 1980, she co-founded with Audre Lorde the Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, the first publishing house for Black, Asian, Latina, and Native American women.
According to the anthology’s editors, Black women’s studies required an intellectual intensity and courage for which a subjective, motivational analysis was appropriate. History had shown that the principle of objectivity, with its emphasis on detachment and neutrality, was not inclusive of people of color. Instead, “objectivity” was an example of the reification of White male thought as the standard for all that is “knowledge.”55 However, Black Women’s Studies promoted knowledge reflective of both collective and individual experience – a necessity for Black women’s liberation and survival.
We should mention two outstanding books by Black female scholars in the 1980s. Winner of Columbia University’s Bancroft Prize, Jacqueline Jones’s Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work and the Family: From Slavery to the Present56 is a stunning analysis of not only the work that Black women did, but also what they desired for themselves and their families. The general lack of understanding about women’s work and family roles is especially significant given the disastrous consequences of federal social policies. As Jones points out, legislators and scholars alike have misrepresented Black women’s place in the paid workforce as one which stripped males of their role as breadwinner, destroyed Black masculinity, and gave women an “all-encompassing power” over spouses and children. Though black women exerted an informal control over their community in the church and family, they remained overwhelmingly tied to wage-earning and child-rearing responsibilities.57 While Jones does not use a Marxist paradigm, she sees the gender dimensions of work as an aspect of proletarian social existence.
Among the earliest and most influential works to set the stage for scholarly inquiry on African American women was Paula Giddings’ When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (1984).58 Giddings has received numerous awards, including fellowships from the Guggenhiem Foundation, the National Humanities Center, and two Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees. With a focus on the late 19th century, When and Where I Enter is a narrative history of the race and gender issues that impacted Black women’s struggle for equality. Through skillful demonstration of Black women’s indomitable spirit to demand justice, defend their name, and address the needs of the community, Giddings provides a context for understanding how the political consciousness of Black women helped to inform their activism. The book also helped to chart the direction of other works devoted to Black women’s struggle from “slavery to freedom.”
Within the last thirty years, the field of African American women’s history has received greater attention and legitimacy because of Darlene Clark Hine. A Board of Trustees Professor of African American Studies and Professor of History at Northwestern University, Hine was inspired in her scholarship by the pioneering work of John Hope Franklin, William A. Williams, and Lerone Bennett.59 Having set out to write a history that would bridge our understanding of the racial chasm between Blacks and Whites, Hine admits that it was not until 1980 that her work began to address the imbalanced focus on race and gender. However, her decision to write the history of African American women was not immediate. Only at the insistence of public school teacher Shirley Herd did Hine consent to write her first history of Black women in Indiana.60 Hine’s work is grounded in the belief, defined early on by Carter G. Woodson, that history should be both accurate and transformative. It includes dozens of articles, two monographs, resource guides, and several edited works including Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia and the 16-volume series, Black Women in United States History.61 In 1986, Hine edited The State of Afro-American History: Past, Present, and Future. The product of a conference on Afro-American History at Purdue University in 1983, the volume suggested new ways of interpreting the Black experience for both historians and teachers. Hine wrote the volume’s only essay on African American women’s history, examining the sex roles, female networks, family work, religion, social reform, and creative expressions of African American women--stories she says must be told in all their “complexity, pain, and beauty.”62 In 1989, Hine wrote Black Women in White: Racial Conflict and Cooperation in the Nursing Profession, 1890-1950, the first book to address how race, class, and gender impacted the professionalization of nursing.63 Hine emphasizes how racism among White nurses, elite White leaders, and the larger culture led to the establishment of separate schools and hospitals for Black nurses. These segregated institutions were funded by community resources, particularly women’s clubs. Through an impressive analysis of Black women’s lives in nursing, Hine demonstrates the similarities between their struggles for equality and those of the larger Black community.
This larger Black community had its origins during the period of slavery, and Deborah Gray White is prominent among Black women historians who have focused on the slave community. Board of Governors Professor of History, White has taught at Rutgers University for over twenty-five years. During her tenure, she has served as Chair of the History Department, director of the Rutgers Institute for Research on Women, and co-director of “The Black Atlantic: Race, Nation and Gender” Project at the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis. Her prolific scholarship includes numerous articles, books, and her first edited work, Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower (2008). In 1985, White’s Ar’n’t I a Woman: Female Slaves in the Plantation South became the first post-civil rights book on enslaved Black women. As White recalls, so unique was this volume that upon its arrival at the Library of Congress, it had no place to go.64 Twenty-five years later, it remains the single best treatment of its subject. As White demonstrates, the female networks and close-knit kin relationships that defined the slave community had a great deal in common with those of their African foremothers, who in many pre-colonial West African societies held positions complementary to those of men.65 Challenging the Elkins theory of slavery which excluded or trivialized the place of women, White’s insightful analysis of antebellum southern culture explains the myths and stereotypes that persist about the nature of Black women.
As exemplified in this study, Black women scholars were beginning to use their full professional influence to document the experience of African American women. This scholarship would serve as a corrective to earlier interpretations which assume Black women’s politics and interests were indistinct from those of Black men and White women. Following this new trend, Nell Irvin Painter took the Black history school’s criticism and indictment in a new direction by using Elkins but in a different manner. In her article, “The Shoah and Southern History,” Painter argues that because of White supremacist writers, America has never come to grips with what the German call Vergangenheitsbewaltigung (understanding the past). The Shoah or Holocaust forced Germans to “come to terms with the past.” Because Germany lost World War II, they had to “face up to their ugly racial past....”66 Wilma King’s Stolen Childhood: Slave Youth in 19th Century America describes the “perpetual war zone of slavery.”67 Painter clearly stressed the pitfalls of Elkins who “made uncritical use of the Sambo stereotype and disregarded black people’s own strengths and coping mechanisms.”68 For Painter, slavery was the Black American “Shoah,” as described by Elkins, but posed the serious question of why there are so many monuments to the fallen soldiers of the old Confederacy and so few to the many thousand gone from lynching, castration, rape, and child molestation.
Her criticism is an indictment and places her and other Black female scholars in the Black Women’s History School. These Black women historians decisively refuted the Hollywood stereotype of Black women as “mulattoes, mammies, aunties, and sapphires.”69 Black women’s critique of Black gender stereotypes parallels H. Viscount Nelson’s effort to level his own critique at the Uncle Tom stereotype. Nelson’s The Rise and Fall of Modern Black Leadership differs from the classical criticism and indictment of White America but agrees that American history “... reveal[s] how Whites and the larger society determined the direction and behavior of Blacks who would lead their race.”70 In this context Nelson “measures” the commitment of black leaders to eliminating the abject conditions cemented by racism and class oppression. One could say that Nelson’s effort is to “out” the “Uncle Toms” within the black experience.71
The Afrocentrist School
However, a number Black History School writers, female and male, leaned very close to what we consider a sub-field within it which we call the Afro-Centered or Afrocentrist School of historical interpretation.72 Like the Black History School, Afrocentrists place Black people at center stage of world history, America’s national history, and local or community history, but they tend to use much harsher language of indictment and condemnation of White America. They completely reject Carter G. Woodson’s hands-off such luminaries as Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. Woodson had stated that “In writing our own particular history we should not dim one bit the luster of any star in our firmament.... George Washington [was and should be remembered as] First in War, First in Peace, and First in the hearts of his Countrymen.”73 Afrocentrist writers attacked Washington as a slaveholder, attacked Jefferson as a rapist of pre-adolescent Black female slave children, and attacked Lincoln as a racist hypocrite. Destruction of White racist historiography before construction of their own Black history ideology became their mantra. A recent instance of this school’s rejection of objective scholarship was Afrocentrist adherents producing the widely Internet-circulated “Willie Lynch Speech.” With no provenance and with clearly 20th-century word phrasing, the speech, attributed to a 1712 slave master, purported to explain how White racists kept and keep Black men and Black women in an antagonistic relationship which therefore spells the doom of the race.74 Because White racist historiography attacked and buried the beauty and greatness of African civilization, Afrocentrist scholarship resurrected, from the dustbin of history, Egypt’s grand Black Pharaohs and their Queens. Ironically, it would be a Jewish scholar, Martin Bernal in his work, Black Athena: The Afro-Asiatic Origins of Greek Civilization,75 who would legitimize decades of Black scholars’ research on the same topic.
All Afrocentrists recognize the shoulders of Black scholars on which Bernal stood and stands. These earlier Black scholars are best represented by John G. Jackson, George G.M. James, William Leo Hansberry, Chancellor Williams, Cheikh Anta Diop, and Yosef Ben Yochannan, whose books are quoted widely.76 Interestingly, it was not a historian, trained or self-trained, that attempted to put a theoretical paradigm to Afrocentrism, but a little-known mass communications professor, Molefi K. Asante, in his Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change (first published in 1980).77 In the academy, however, it is Maulana Karenga and his work Introduction to Black Studies that have solidified Afrocentrism within Africana or Black Studies programs. Afrocentrism is connected to the political ideas of Black Nationalism and Pan Africanism; it favors literature that says that Black is beautiful, White people are the devil incarnate, and without the destruction of African civilization, Black people would still be rulers of the world. This is why Gerald Early, a conservative Black critic of Afrocentrism describes it merely as a “nightmare” of Black folks’ own choosing when they try to fantasize a world without White people.78
The Marxist History School
Black pride and solidarity lie deep within the psyche of most Black folk, based on their understanding of what White racism has done to destroy their lives and culture. Popular culture Black magazines like Emerge, Upscale, Ebony, and Essence use these emotions in marketing. These and other Black bourgeois periodicals confirm and deny simultaneously Karl Marx’s observation that “men make their own history but not in circumstances of their own choosing.” Born into a racist society and racist social relations of production, American slaves and their descendants have developed an acute racial identity and racial consciousness. However, there were always dialectical contradictions in these historical circumstances. During the slave period, not every Black was a slave. Therein lies the class question and a confirmation of C.L.R. James’s definitive observation that “The race question is subsidiary to the class question in politics, and to think of imperialism in terms of race is disastrous but to neglect the racial factor as merely incidental is an error only less grave than to make it fundamental.”79
This perceptive understanding of race and class is the clarion of the Marxist History School. The rise of quasi-free Blacks in both South and North before the Civil War created a bifurcated or dual social existence: they were free and yet they could be arbitrarily re-enslaved at any moment. This led to a bonding or grounding with their Black slave brethren who were in a different class and social relations, only one step or one moment from a precarious free status with the few quasi-free Blacks in the social class right above them. The existence of quasi-free Blacks, some of whom owned slaves themselves, shows the importance of the race/class dilemma described by James. The dangerous dialectics of slavery and freedom – or what could be termed after Civil War “a certain kind of freedom” – led to the solidification of race consciousness in Black America, no matter what class the individual belonged to. The Black bourgeoisie lived in a fantasy world of immediate gratification and ostentation, with an attitude of “here today, gone tomorrow.” This fantasy world negated consciousness, much as occurred with the Black lumpen, leading both strata to an existentially precarious life on the edge, in which they had to constantly try not to lose their heads.80
In the Age of Segregation or Jim Crow, White supremacy had a suffocating effect on all Black individuals irrespective of social or class position. The fantasy world of the Black bourgeoisie and the destructive world of the lumpenproletariat existed alongside the dreams of proletarian Black families. The post-Jim Crow Era saw the rapid rise of the Black petite bourgeoisie via Hollywood, affirmative action hiring, or as workers in high-salaried sport industry. Race thinking remained, but class became newly evident. Because of the race/class dialectic, Black culture and the marketing of it cuts across class lines. Even though the Black bourgeois, Black proletariat, and Black lumpen live geographically apart (less so for the last two segments), the marketing of material things has a distinct capitalist rationality and continuity within the fabled “Black community.” Black pop culture magazines help mold a contradictory Black race consciousness by hyping the allure of wealth (the American Dream) while paying lip service, within the same magazine issue, to the travail of those left behind in the proverbial “ghetto.”
The Marxist History School recognizes the dilemmas of race and class within the Black Bourgeoisie and Black America. The leading authorities in this school cite Karl Marx’s theories of dialectical materialism and the class struggle as the basis for explicating the history of Black Americans.81 The most recognizable scholar in this school is the late Herbert Aptheker. In his 1943 book, American Negro Slave Revolts,82 he took dead aim at the distortions of the leading white supremacist book on slavery which was U.B. Phillips’ American Negro Slavery. The ideological “war” between pro-Phillips and pro-Aptheker scholars epitomizes the contested aspect of Black History. Of course, Aptheker, as a Marxist historian, looked at the inherent race and class antagonism within master/slave production relations. Ergo, class struggle in the guise of race struggle, i.e. numerous slave revolts. The happy, devoted, childish “Sambo” of Stanley Elkins’ innovative but quasi-racist scholarship was finally buried in the minds of Black scholars because of Herbert Aptheker’s scholarly contributions.
Of the few Marxist History School scholars, a significant number have been of Afro-Caribbean background. Even though not a Marxist, Marcus Garvey had a trade union background, and most members of the socialist African Blood Brotherhood (ABB) were of Jamaican or Caribbean heritage.83 The idea of one’s social existence determining one’s consciousness enabled C.L.R. James to grasp the dialectic of class and race. His understanding of the relationship between social existence and consciousness was based on what he could see of race/class contradictions in the Black Antilles. The same understanding has led a plethora of Blacks to embrace Marxism, from the post-Civil War era socialist Peter Clark, to the anarchist Afro-Latina, Lucia Gonzalez Parsons, to Black Baptist socialist ministers, Reverends George Washington Woodbey and George W. Slater, to ABB’s Hubert H. Harrison, to the Harlem Renaissance socialists A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen, to the 1952 Progressive Party vice-presidential candidate and accused communist Carlotta Bass, to the 1960s’ Angela Davis among others.84 The leading “Black” Marxist thinker, John H. McClendon III, has written extensively on C.L.R. James and provided solid scholarship on the viability of using Marx to explicate the Black experience.85
Afrocentric rebuke and criticism came early from Jake Carruthers whose work “Marx and the Negro” became standard. Carruthers quoted Harold Cruse calling Marx a “honkey,” but yet proceeded to accept Marxist materialism, while blackening it and connecting it to the Black struggle and to the dialectics of the non-white Third World struggle against white imperialism.86 In another attempt at rejecting the validity of Marx, Clarence Walker provocatively titled a book-chapter “How Many Niggers Did Karl Marx Know?”87 The title was aimed at shocking readers into seeing race as the driving force of the struggle between haves and have-nots. Walker’s blind Black Nationalism was regrettably tarnished, however, when he savagely rebuked Black female historian Barbara Field and her scholarship.88
Black Marxist writings, though few in number, have maintained a dialogue on how the Marxist paradigm can help clarify the dialectics of historical continuity and discontinuity. Clarence J. Munford’s Production Relations, Class and Black: A Marxist Perspective in Afro-American Studies is an exceptional work, and Manning Marable’s How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America has densely cited data to prove his point. Wilfred D. Samuels’s Five Afro-Caribbean Voices in American Culture, 1917-1920 clearly shows how Marxism was embraced by many Black intellectual activists. Malik Simba’s recent work, Black Marxism and American Constitutionalism, is a rare effort at using Marxist legal theory to explicate law, race, class, and society.89
The Contending “Schools”
The struggle between the different schools is ultimately an ideological struggle for the hearts and minds of Black Folk. What has been the outcome of their interaction? Let us take for example the controversy over the 1991 book published by the Nation of Islam (NOI), The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews. The book’s thesis is that Sephardic Jews were heavily involved in the Atlantic Slave Trade. This thesis has more to do with present history than with the past. It confirms the dictum that “all history of the past is selected, contoured, and defined by the ideological needs of the present generation.” The NOI used history to explain the continuity of Black/Jewish relationship as slave and master, manifested today in the ghetto as Jewish exploitative merchant and Black poor consumer. Interestingly, the foremost Negro School scholar, John Hope Franklin, feigned ignorance when asked about the relationship of Jews to the trans-Atlantic slave trade while speaking at the Hillel House at the University of Chicago.90 Franklin knew the extant literature of this relationship, but kept within Woodson’s earlier hands-off paradigm. The book took on national recognition when Tony Martin of Wellesley College’s Africana Studies department used it in his classes and Leonard Jefferies, chair of Black Studies at City University of New York (CUNY), gave a speech at the Empire State Black Arts and Cultural Festival in support of the book’s veracity. Jewish students and organizations attacked Martin and Jefferies; Martin was censured at Wellesley and Jefferies was fired as chair, but later won his lawsuit and was reinstated.
Martin chronicled this intellectual struggle over the hearts and minds of Black folk in his book, The Jewish Onslaught: Dispatches from the Wellesley Battlefront.91 NOI leaders Minister Farrakhan and his underling, Khalid Abdul Muhammad both gave inflammatory speeches in support of the book’s thesis. Leading Jewish scholars waded in and Harold Brackman, with support from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, published Farrakhan’s Reign of Historical Error: the Truth Behind “The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews”.92 Ironically, it would be Martin’s chair of Africana Studies at Wellesley, Selwyn R. Cudjoe, who would give this controversy a certain clarity from the Marxist History School perspective. Cudjoe argues that the book is clearly antisemitic and devoid of intellectual objectivity. He notes that all historical facts speak as the authors want them to speak. He also explains that Jews controlled “less than one percent of the slaves exported from Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries and Jews owned only a small share of the Dutch West Indian Company, which traded in slaves.”93 Cudjoe posed the obvious question, if “Gentiles, Europeans, Muslims, and even Africans (tribal traitors according to the NOI)” were slave traders, why does the NOI argue, in a singular and select fashion, that Jews’ involvement was due to their being Jews and not, like that of the other participants, to their social existence as capitalists. Cudjoe argued that those few Jews who were involved were motivated, like the other slave-traders, by capitalist greed. He understood C.L.R. James’s perception of race and class, citing Black Marxist scholar Oliver Cromwell Cox’s 1943 work Race Relations: Its Meaning, Beginning, and Progress:94
- Sometimes because of its very obviousness, it is not realized that the slave trade was simply a way of recruiting labor for the purpose of exploiting the great natural resources of America. The trade did not develop because Indians and Blacks were red and black ... but simply because they were the best workers to be found for the heavy labor in the mines and plantations across the Atlantic.95
No matter how clear this fact should be to the average intelligent person, the ideology of antisemitism, Biblically based, still led many “Christian” Black Folk, in their hearts and minds, to think like “Christian” White antisemites. But the battle over Black Folks’ hearts and minds really exploded earlier with the publication of William Styron’s Confessions of Nat Turner. The 1968 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, written in first person by Styron, created another battlefront over historical facts and images. The struggle for the social consciousness of Black Folk would be intensely waged over Styron’s racist appropriation of a Black heroic figure. This battle took on a new dimension when ten black scholars wrote a book-length response entitled William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond.96 In the ten articles, edited by leading Black History scholar John Henrik Clarke, each writer – from fields of history, psychiatry, literature, and sociology – takes turns savaging Styron’s ahistorical view of Nat Turner. Styron’s Nat Turner is quasi-homosexual, lustful after white women (Margaret Whitehead); hates Black Folk (“my black shit-eating people ... God’s mindless outcasts”); hates the Sambo-like Hark, who is an example of “sniveling servility”; comes from a “welfare family” with an absentee father; becomes a privileged “house nigger,” but has a fantasy that he could become “white as clabber cheese, white, stark white.... What a wicked joy.... I was no longer the grinning black boy....”97 Most of the ten writers can be placed either in the Negro History School or the Black History School, but Ernest Kaiser belongs in the Marxist History School. Kaiser’s response is complex. He addressed Styron’s background, his knowledge of slavery, other literary works that parallel the Confessions, and the popular image of slavery. Finally, Kaiser used Aptheker’s American Negro Slave Revolts to completely reject the personality, behavior, and motivation of Styron’s Turner as a basis for waging class and race war against the Virginia plantocracy.
All these debates play out in the conflicts over Black Studies programs. Although our main concern here is with higher education, we note that the battleground over the hearts and minds of Black Folk is even more “bloody” at the elementary and secondary school levels. The battles over Afrocentric curriculum have been intense. We acknowledge that US schools have, in general and very recently, accepted curricula of the Negro History School approach for elementary and secondary students. School boards tend to support activities during Black History Month while spinning the message of a multicultural fabric of contributions by all groups to the glorious American saga. Afrocentrism, however, has been fought and rejected by numerous school boards as racist and divisive. Interestingly, no school curriculum at the pre-college level has attempted to embrace a Marxist History School approach. The curriculum battleground has been exclusionary.
In higher education, Black Studies became a focus of intellectual debate toward the end of the civil rights stage of the 1960s movement. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)98 was composed of the brightest and the best Black college student leaders. These leaders began to use historical analysis in their speeches to the masses. Influenced by Malcolm X and his use of history as propaganda, they returned to their respective colleges and universities, after “freedom summers,” and demanded the inclusion of “their” history into the curriculum of higher education. Black students first climbed the ramparts of the “ivory tower” on this issue in 1968 at San Francisco State. They demanded a department of Black Studies with Professor Nathan Hare as its chair. Like a “spark” the Black Studies movement spread across the academic “prairie” hitting hundreds of public as well as private colleges and universities. Between 1968 and 1973 over two hundred Black Studies academic units were created. Leaders of SNCC regularly spoke on campuses throughout the country, as did Eldridge Cleaver and other Black Panther Party leaders. The intellectual exclusivity of the “ivory tower” was alluded to in a Ford Foundation Letter of December 1, 1970. While establishing lucrative research fellowships in “ethnic studies,” the letter noted that “Conspicuous absentees from the college and university curriculum include not only the Black experience in America, but also the history and culture of other ethnic minorities as well.”99 At Cornell University, the establishment of Africana Studies came on the heels of racist attacks on Black students, especially Black females, to which the students responded by arming themselves and taking over Willard Straight Hall. One leader yelled that Cornell University has “24 hours to live”100 if their demands were not met. Consequently, an Africana Studies Department was established, with James Turner as chairperson. This department and its curriculum followed closely the Afrocentrism philosophy of John Henrik Clarke. Clarke used the term Pan Africanism; therefore, Cornell’s Africana Studies Department should be placed in the Black History School.
In Chicago, Ron Bailey and Abdul Alkalimat worked within the Peoples College system and developed a curriculum reader that would place them on the political left.101 This reader was not Marxist but it conveyed history within C.L.R. James’s race/class paradigm. Those involved at Peoples College would lead the struggle over changing the name of Black History Month to Black Liberation Month – a recognition that worldwide capitalism oppresses Black folk inter-continentally. Peoples College and those involved early on would be comfortable seeing themselves in the Marxist History School. We place them here because of their hiring and work with leading Black Marxist thinker and writer John McClendon III.102 Last, the Afrocentric School asserted autonomy from the Black History School model by establishing a doctoral program in Afrocentrism at Temple University under the leadership of Molefi Asante and an undergraduate program at California State University-Long Beach with Maulana Karenga.103
White scholars attacked this movement very aggressively. Allan Bloom wrote The Closing of the American Mind,104 which he argued was a synonym for Black Studies, and Arthur Schlesinger also became a vocal critic. Bloom and Schlesinger spearheaded the publishing of hundreds of books and articles attacking this BIRM. At California State University-Fresno, Victor D. Hanson and Bruce Thornton have led the conservative attack on ethnic, women’s, Chicano, Asian, and Africana Studies as not being viable academic units. Hanson, Thornton, and their colleague John Heath explicate their criticism of such programs in Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age.105 This book contains a chapter, “Who Killed Homer? The Prequel,” which refers to “schools” that condemn and criticize “Western society” as disseminating “false knowledge.” They do make an excellent point when they reveal a fundamental contradiction in the Afrocentrist school, noting, “The paradox is unmistakable; Western culture is racist, sexist, patriarchal, but we nevertheless now are to claim [Afrocentrism] that it all started in black Africa.... These new critics cannot have it both ways.... The Greeks cannot both be deplorable and yet proof positive of a glorious lost African or Semitic legacy.”106 Hanson, Thornton, and Heath have been recognized as national spokespersons for their position. However, on the national level the criticism is encapsulated in the observation by the late quasi-Jewish scholar, Tony Judt who stated that ethnic studies programs “study themselves thereby negating the goals of a liberal education and reinforcing the sectarian and ghetto mentalities they purport to undermine.”107
In conclusion, whether the “American mind” is closing or opening depends on one’s social position. That is why Black women’s historiography embraces the dialectics of race, class, and gender as interlocking dynamics. Few of the other “schools” do this. Black women’s history and social existence are decidedly different from those of Black men.108 One needs only to read the separate slave narratives of sister and brother, Harriet Jacobs (aka Linda Brent) and John S. Jacobs. Whereas Harriet writes about her sexual dilemma and exploitation, her brother nowhere mentions “her sexual history ... [and] threats of concubinage.”109 The guilt that John Jacobs felt about his inability to protect his sister from rape led to his historic silence on this topic. It is this history, revealed by a White woman historian, that we argue is making the Black Women’s History School a driving force in how American historiography develops in the near future. Gender issues have challenged the Black Intellectual Resistance Movement (BIRM) to use the variable of gender in its defense of and retort to White scholars who still try to propagandize America’s past. Tony Judt and other White scholars seem hard pressed to understand that history moves in a dialectic of opposing forces and material realities. Scholars of the African American experience “study Black folk” to better understand the forces which impact, contour, and direct their hearts and minds. The mis-education within American education has been ameliorated, to a large extent, by the Black titans of the BIRM who never have been intellectually monolithic but write from “schools” of thought that we define as Negro History, Black History, Marxist History, and last but never least, Black Women’s History. A Luta Continua!
1. Thomas Bailey, “The Mythmakers of American History,” Journal of American History, 55, (1968), 15.