Submitted on behalf of the Communist Party of Maryland—Baltimore Club
Before Black History Month, there was Negro History Week, initiated with insight and foresight by the outstanding scholar and activist, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who used his little-known organization, “Institute for the Life and Study of the Negro People,” to launch the week in 1926.
It was basically a culturally jam-packed week to inform the negro people here in this country as well as Africans in the Americas and on the continent of Africa of their heritage and the contributions to world civilizations in ancient and modern times. Negro History Week used the time also to denounce chattel slavery, the peonage system that Black folk had to deal with, especially in the South where they worked in semi-feudal conditions, doing back-breaking work for little return.
Most of that back-breaking work went to the ruling class as surplus value (or profits) in the South as well as in the North.
Other organizations such as the NAACP, founded in 1909, celebrated and built Negro History Week. Dr. W. E. B. DuBois, as editor of The Crisis, played a special role in categorically denouncing US racism towards the colored peoples of the world. That also included the Native peoples of North America and the rest of the Americas.
The celebration of Negro History Week lasted until the 1970’s. Then came Black History Month. The orientation of Black History Month became more varied, and for a while Black History Month honored Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s pioneering work and the contributions of African peoples all over the world. But for reasons unknown, Black History Month began to change its format–such as not paying much attention to the plight of the sister peoples of mother Africa or adhering to the Africans in the Americas. The emphasis became more and more centered on Africans born in the U.S.
A few comments are in order regarding the role of the most advanced forces in the U.S. vis-à-vis the Black struggle for freedom and equality, starting with the International Workers of the World (IWW). The IWW played a central role in vehemently denouncing U.S. racism against Black people and was one of the first to call for unity of the working class within unions. In addition, the IWW went out to recruit Black workers into the ranks of their unions. It understood that unity is key for the success of the struggles of the oppressed and exploited. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), supported by the rank and file and leaders of the Communist Party, continued where the IWW left off and went even further to help organize large segments of the working class.
In the 1920’s, the Communist Party USA organized for Blacks to express themselves in song, theater, literature and dance, playing a part in the creation of the Harlem Renaissance. For decades the CPUSA also helped to initiate school programs for Black youth and adults, in order to tell the truth about the country’s racist past such as in the school attended by Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks.
The Council on African Affairs, headed up by some great revolutionaries such as Paul Robeson, William L. Patterson, William Z. Foster, W.E.B. DuBois and Alpheus Hunton as well as Lena Horne, and Lorraine Hansbury played a key role from its inception in 1934 to its dissolution in 1955 on the “African question,” that is on the question of colonialism in most parts of Africa. The Council’s role was also involved in struggles of the colored peoples of Asia and the Americas, realizing that unity is key for the oppressed and the exploited peoples of the world. The Council built on the heritage of Negro History Week by having large cultural events on a regular basis, inviting delegations from Africa and the Caribbean as well as from Asia.
Black History Month exposes white supremacy, racism and colonialism and in doing so also helps to inform other sister peoples that suffer the same indignities by the common enemy. And who is this ‘common enemy?’ The racist, capitalist class which is less than 1% of the world’s population. As an example of this understanding, the magnificent revolutionary, Ho Chi Minh, said he was greatly inspired by Black people in America who played a major role in galvanizing other peoples all over the world in the fight for freedom in Africa.
Black History Month is also celebrated in England and in some parts of the Caribbean.
As was stated before, Black History Month has become more and more focused on Africans born in the U.S. as opposed to the initial format which was focused on Africans all over the world. We submit that Black History Month should make an effort to return to the original format of being conscious of the heritage, contributions and struggles of our sisters and brothers on the continents of Africa and Asia and in the Americas as well as in the United States.
This commentary was submitted on behalf of the Communist Party of Maryland—Baltimore Club, baltimorecpusa.org
The opinions on this page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the AFRO.
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