A Reflection on Black History Month

Guest post by Manager of Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (JEDI) Victoria Carter-Johnston

There are Black people everywhere. Through colonialism, Africans were spread throughout the diaspora, giving us African-Americans, Caribbeans, Afro-Latinx, Africans in Europe and Asia, etc. Black History Month in particular focused on the history of African-Americans in the U.S., but that does not mean that history starts with enslavement.

Debunking myth:

  1. Picnics: Though the concept of picnics did begin in France, when America was formed, it took on a much darker take on the idea. Picnics, mostly in the South, were opportunities for communities to watch lynchings together, eat and celebrate as they burned African-American bodies. Families brought children, pictures were taken and even put on postcards.
  2. George Washington & his wooden teeth: Though the brown color of the materials used may have resembled wood, the myth is false. In fact, the majority of the materials used for George Washington’s dentures, beginning in his mid-twenties, were made out of human and animal teeth. It is on record that he purchased nine teeth from enslaved “Negros.” Nine healthy teeth that likely weren’t taken consensually. 
  3. Feminism: With the wave of Feminism coming during the time of the Civil Rights movement, Black women found themselves caught at an intersection; then eventually forced into one. At the time it was hard enough to advocate for one cause which, led many white women to advocate for their rights as white women first, even if that meant ignoring or opposing civil rights issues. Notable feminists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton openly advocated for solely the white women vote. This friction and lack of unity inevitably resulted in the demise of the early Feminist movement, as Black women were forced to choose to focus of the Black vote, which was then gained before the female vote.
  4. Gated communities and swimming pools: Many Americans see living in a gated community as a sense of safety and accomplishment. The demographics and lack of diversity in gated communities may be assumed to be the result of racial income disparities. However, history shows that many of our grandparents (people of color) wouldn’t have been able to live in those neighborhoods even if they had the money to, due to redlining. Communities of color were forced into compact neighborhoods in cities or pushed out into the country. Have you heard of the stereotype that Black people can’t swim? Well, when resources are concentrated in certain neighborhoods, those neighborhoods have the resources to build and add amenities–like pools–to their community. When’s the last time you saw a pool in a low-income neighborhood / community? Especially in the city? It’s hard to learn how to swim when you don’t have safe access to a body of water, neither did your parents and your grandparents were too focused on surviving on land to worry about knowing how to swim; which they probably never got the chance to enjoy
  5. Mount Rushmore: The land used for Mount Rushmore is another example of how America’s foundation and forefather built this country off broken treaties, stolen land, and injustice. The mountains used for the famous American landmark was reserved for Sioux people in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, giving them “absolute and undisturbed use and occupation.” That land in the Black Hills was seized illegally for the monument.
  6. History was a Long Time Ago?
UVA Negro Nursing Class of 1958 and Colored Ward

We have to know better to do better!

“In everlasting memory of the anguish of our ancestors.

May those who died rest in peace.

May those who return find their roots.

May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity.

We, the living vow to uphold this.”

  • Elmina & Cape Coast Castles  

Many castles still remain littered across the West African coast. Among them are the Elmina castle and Cape Coast castle, the former being the oldest and the latter being the largest castle in West Africa. These castles were built for and by Europeans for trading and lodging, which became ports for shipping enslaved Africans. People were kept in dungeons for as long as a week to roughly three months. They were chained, starved, beaten, raped, and packed into rooms so compact many had to stand for their entire stay, which meant no sleep. If they didn’t die and made it to the ships, their conditions worsened during the passage and many were thrown or jumped overboard. Those willing to continue the journey and made it to America found a new and worse form of indefinite enslavement. Many question how a person could have the strength to live through these conditions. It’s because of our ancestor’s selflessness that they were able to push through. It’s because our ancestors needed someone to carry their story, this story, that we, African-Americans, are here today.