Black History Month is more important than ever. To understand how this nation traveled from colonialism to independence, slavery to freedom, and segregation to civil rights, we must place the lives, aspirations, and thoughts of African Americans at the center of US history. The first martyr of the American Revolution was Crispus Attucks, a sailor of African and Native American heritage who fell in the Boston Massacre. John Hancock honored Attuck’s memory by observing, “Who taught the British soldier that he might be defeated? Who dared look into his eyes? I place, therefore, this Crispus Attucks in the foremost rank of the men that dared.” By the end of the Revolution black troops composed approximately one out of every five soldiers in George Washington’s Continental Army.
Abraham Lincoln credited African American labor power as well as courage on the battlefield with turning the tide of the Civil War. In an interview with John T. Mills, President Lincoln asserted “Abandon all the posts now garrisoned by black men, take one hundred and fifty thousand men from our side and put them in the battle-field or corn-field against us, and we would be compelled to abandon the war in three weeks.”
Beyond these powerful narratives, John Brown Childs has argued in his essay, “Crossroads: Towards a Transcommunal Black History Month in the Multicultural United States of the 21st Century,” that we need to broaden the scope and scale of Black History Month beyond the borders of the United States and to think of the ways that Latinos, Native Americans, and others have played critical roles in African American history. Historically speaking, African Americans have often connected questions of self-determination and equality at home with the fates of oppressed people in Latin America, Africa, and the Global South generally. In 1825, free African Americans in Baltimore gathered to celebrate the 21st anniversary of Haitian Independence and offered a public tribute to “Washington, Toussaint, and Bolívar—Unequalled in fame—the friends of mankind—the glorious advocates of Liberty.” By this gesture, African Americans joined their own aspirations for freedom with the emancipation of their brothers and sisters in Latin America and the Caribbean. The commemoration promoted an understanding of the intimate connections between movements for liberty throughout the Americas.
Today's post is by Paul Ortiz. Ortiz is an associate professor of history at the University of Florida. He is writing a book titled Our Separate Struggles Are Really One: African American and Latino Histories, which will be published by Beacon Press.
"In the debate surrounding Arizona's laws targeting immigrants and ethnic studies, we've heard very little mention of capitalism and its place in American politics. Senate Bill 1070 is an insurance policy for capitalism, a way to ensure that the cheap labor that serves the foundation of the new economy remains cheap forever. House Bill 2281 is part of a package deal. The erasure of ethnic studies courses that show how poor people have changed history - when they have organized - will allow the invention of a historical narrative as one sided as the old myths of the European Conquest. These bills are a gift from a steadily shrinking, white, ruling class to its own posterity and to any white workers and ethnic minorities willing to accept second-class citizenship in order to avoid something far worse. Unless we mobilize to defeat these measures, worse things are on the horizon. Our history proves it."