It is always exciting to enter into a New Year and the challenge presented by the New Year as we celebrate in January the legacy of the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the accomplishments of African Americans living in Diaspora in February with the observance and celebration of Black History Month, and the accomplishments and achievements of Women during the month of March.
As a product of the Civil Rights Movement in American, I am so grateful for the work of Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, the founder of Negro History Week, now month, who set this celebration in motion with the publishing of his magnificent book entitled, The Mis-Education of the Negro, published in 1933. In 1926 Dr. Woodson initiated the annual February observance of Negro History Week. It is said that he chose February for the celebration because February 12th was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and February 14th was the accepted birthday of Frederick Douglass. It was not until 1970 however that the week was expanded into a month.
It is believed that the motivation behind the establishment of Negro history week by Dr. Woodson was this now famous quote from his book:
“When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”
Brought to America as slaves, the achievements of Black men and women had gone unnoticed until the efforts of Dr. Woodson were acknowledged. His work lifted up before Americans and the world community the great contributions that have been made by African Americans to the development of American economy and culture.
Let me share with you some of the acknowledged achievements of African Americans considering, where would we be without their contributions.
There would have been very few crops that flourished because the nation was built on a slave-supported system.
There would be no cities with tall skyscrapers because Alexander Miles, a black man, invented the elevator, and without it, one would have difficulty reaching higher floors.
There would be few if any cars because Richard Spikes, a black man, invented the automatic gearshift, Joseph Gambol, also black, invented the Super Charge System for internal combustion engines, and Garrett A. Morgan, a black man, invented the traffic signal.
There would be no rapid transit system because is precursor was the electric trolley, which was invented by another black man, Albert R. Robinson.
Even if there were streets on which cars and a rapid transit system could operate, they would be cluttered with paper because a black man, Charles Brooks, invented the street sweeper.
There would be few if any newspapers, magazines and books available to a mass audience because John Love invented the pencil sharpener, William Purvis invented the fountain pen, Lee Barrage invented the typewriting machine, and W. A. Love invented the advanced printing press. They were all of African descent.
Even if Americans could write their letters, articles and books, they would not have been easily transported by mail because William Barry invented the postmarking and canceling machine, William Purvis invented the hand stamp, and Philip Downing invented the mailbox or letter drop.
Our lawns would be brown and wilted because Joseph Smith invented the lawn sprinkler and John Burr the lawnmower.
When we entered our homes, we would find them poorly ventilated and poorly heated, because Frederick Jones invented the air conditioner and Alice Parker the heating furnace. Our homes would also be dimly lit, because Lewis Latimer invented the electric lamp, Michael Harvey invented the lantern, and Granville T. Woods invented the automatic cut off switch. Our homes would also be filthy because Thomas W. Steward invented the mop and Lloyd P. Ray, the dust pan.
Our family needs would be unmet because Jan E. Matzeliger invented the shoe lasting machine, Walter Sammons invented the comb, Sarah Boone invented the ironing board and George T. Sampson invented the clothes dryer.
Finally, we would be resigned to at least have dinner amidst all of this turmoil. But here again, the food had spoiled until another black man, John Standard invented the refrigerator.
These are but a few acknowledged contributions made by African American living in America. There are many more.
What would this country be like without the contributions of African Americans? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said,
“By the time we leave for work, millions of Americans have depended on the inventions from the minds of Blacks.”
Dr. Woodson reminds all of us through his insistence on affirming and acknowledging the many contributions of African Americans that Black History includes more than just slavery, Frederick Douglass, Harriett Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. Dubois and President Barak Obama to name a few of the magnificent contributors to the history and culture of America. We are called to honor the past and mandated to build upon that past for the future. For it is true that we all stand on the shoulders of the great women and men of the past.
It was Runoko Rashidi who said,
Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson was truly a great man, an intensely dedicated soldier in the cause of African freedom and redemption. We proudly salute and praise him, and as we begin the new millennium we dedicate ourselves to extending Black History Month into the entire year and the unending an unceasing celebration, recognition and commemoration of the global history of African people.”
Dr. Paul M. Martin
President and Professor of Pastoral Theology