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Black History from a White Perspective


I enjoy the month of February because it is Black History month. Black history intrigues me and the more I learn, the more I want to learn of American Black history.

Unfortunately, Black history is not taught well in schools. For most students, the connection between the past, present and future are not clear and understandable. Students cannot appreciate the present because they do not know their past.

So, why should I, a white American male write on the subject of Black history? The simple answer is because Black history interests me. But is it politically correct for a white person to write about Black history? It is.

What will the Woke freaks think? I do not care what they think. How will my input be received? I hope for the best.

How will I be criticized? I do not know how, but I expect it.

During my studying of Black history, I have learned many important lessons.

The most paradoxical lesson learned is that people (Black and White) know their civil rights but they do not know their history, and unfortunately, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana).

When I ask people the question, “Who did you learn about in school that were Black?” The answers have all included the predictable answers, Dr.

Martin Luther King, Jr., (Dr. King is always the number one answer) Rosa Parks, George Washington Carver, President Obama and sometimes Jackie Robinson.

The number of Black people who are spoken of, discussed, researched, and reported on during a school’s Black History month are terribly limited to less than a dozen of the most wellknown people. My pursuit of Black history began with reading Booker T. Washington’s autobiography Up From Slavery. This book is fascinating and it compelled me to learn more about Black history that is not taught in school and not spoken widely of in our culture.

Another significant factor for my interest in Black history was the discovery of a statue (Hidden in plain sight) located about two miles north of Earle, Arkansas on state highway 149.

This Angel in the Field statue (Imported from Italy) overlooks the gravesite of Mr. George Berry Washington, Jr., and he is the sole resident of this wonderful cemetery on top of a naturally rising hill from the once swampy land of Crittenden County.

When corn or soybeans are growing in the field surrounding the statue, it is an idyllic location to picture Mr.

Washington giving orders for the day to his almost one-hundred men who were day laborers, tenant farmers or sharecroppers working his land.

The “Angel” stands as an old guardian of the significance of George Berry Washington, Jr., and his roles as a farmer, store owner, businessman, and minister. There are remnants of his “Main Place” scattered along the banks of the now levied, and diverted Tyronza River which flows into the St. Francis River just a few miles west of Earle.

The “Main Place” was the name for Mr. Washington’s home and headquarters of his thriving plantation. Mr.

Washington became one of the ten largest landowners in the early 1900’s in Crittenden County. An amazing accomplishment for a Black man, a former slave!

Nationally acclaimed and highly collected local artist, Carroll Cloar captured the Angels’ allure in his famous painting titled “The Angel in the Thornpatch” (1957). I would so enjoy having a print of this painting.

My interest in learning Black history is also rooted in the history of a small rural church I pastored in Earle, Arkansas. The church and city of Earle have a rich history and many good people came from both. Little did I know that my experiences in the church and community would merge with my experiences as a child, contributing to and focusing my interest in Black history.

I grew up living on Air Force bases in Biloxi, MS., San Antonio, TX., Jacksonville, AR., and Anchorage, Alaska. Every school I attended, while living on the air bases, were integrated. As I look back on my childhood, I now understand the American passion for civil rights and school integration were hidden from me because the schools I attended were already inte-

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Clayton Adams

Special to the Times BHM

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grated. My family lived next door to people of various backgrounds. I knew of no classroom not having children of various shades of color and backgrounds.

On July 26, 1948, by Executive Order 9981 President Harry Truman integrated the U.S. military. Consequently, when I came along in 1960 the military bases, I lived on were already desegregated and I attended school, swam in base pools, and played with people who did not look like me.

Few people know that the desegregation of the military was influenced by the terrible beating of a Black uniformed Army veteran on the way home. Sergent Isaac Woodard was beaten so badly (February 12, 1946) by a white police officer that he was blinded.

This lone event infuriated President Truman he launched a presidential committee on civil rights. President Truman with his Executive Order desegregated the U.S. military.

This Executive Order was the beginning of the end of Jim Crow laws in the South.

Many people are deceived by their knowledge of “Civil Rights.” One may know their rights but if they do not know the history, they cannot appreciate the full scope and significance of their civil rights.

Historical ignorance is an increasingly powerful blight in our schools and culture and it is the deadly enemy of civil rights and civil responsibility.

Racism is a learned behavior and it can be subtle or radical in its passing from one generation to the next. Racism destroys the souls of people.

When one say’s “I am not a racist…” it reveals the insecurity of a person who is ignorant to the fact that inculcated within each person the seeds of racism and discrimination await germination.

Equally important to understand is that people of color can be racist. Racism is part of the human soul. A Black person can be just as racist in attitude, thoughts, words, and deeds as any White person.

Racism is learned, and transferred from one person to another, from one generation to the next.

Fortunately, the cycle of racism can be broken at the rate of one person at a time.

Racism is a human condition and it is a prideful and horrible fault to view oneself as “better” than someone else. It is human pride that keeps the heart of racism beating.

In Arkansas, the first Black slaves were brought in 1720 by German colonists who were financed by the Scottish financier, John Law (Negro Slavery in Arkansas, Orville W. Taylor, Duke University Press, 1958). This effort was abandoned for various reasons but primarily because producing the first crop to sustain the settlers through the winter proved extremely difficult.

It may be uncomfortable and politically incorrect to state in today’s culture, but history records the fact that slaves came in all colors and backgrounds.

Many do not realize that in America, history records that free Black people owned Black slaves, even sold slaves to Black and White owners (Many deny this, but it is historical fact). Italians brought to Arkansas were effectively nothing more than slaves and many died from the heat, yellow fever, malaria, and starvation. Chinese were brought to America then to Arkansas to build the railroads and many died – treated worse than slaves. Native Americans owned slaves from other tribes and captured Whites and Blacks.

Slavery is mentioned in the Bible but the Bible does not condone slavery. Slaves built the Great Pyramids of Egypt, The Great Wall of China, and many other historical locations. I mention these examples because most people do not know the history of slavery or the injustice and cruelty people of every color and background have endured.

Even today, around the world slavery is a daily practice.

Slavery is not a uniquely American issue.

Because Black people have contributed to every success of America, we are a better nation! Some of my favorite people to read and learn about are, Ida B. Wells, George Berry Washington, Jr., Scott Bond, Frederick Douglass, Robert R. Church, Sr. and his son, Robert R. Church, Jr., Mary Church Terrell, Dr.

Charles Drew, John L. Handcox, Thurgood Marshall, Isaac Woodard, Mary Ellen Pleasant, the dozens of Blacks elected into office following the American uncivil war, and the list goes on.

It is to our detriment and devastation that we ignore or belittle Black history or worse, teach it without passion and conviction. Schools do an injustice to focus on the all too familiar names of civil rights leaders in the classroom. These modern civil rights leaders stand on the shoulders of those who suffered and endured unspeakable horrors and difficulties.

For instance, it was a group of White liberals who, after a series of race riots called together leaders from the White and Black communities and started the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

According to the NAACP website, “some 60 people, seven of whom were African American, signed the call, which was released on the centennial of Lincoln’s birthday.” Most people believe the NAACP was created by Black people, but it was White peo-

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ple who saw the injustice and called great leaders together to challenge racism and discrimination – these and other historical facts are not taught in schools.

Most schools teach that the modern civil rights era began with Ms. Rosa Parks who was arrested for sitting in the front of the bus. This is a critical error. Ms. Parks, according to court records, was arrested for not giving up her middle of the bus seat for a white man to sit down. She was not arrested for sitting in the front of the bus because she did not sit in the front of the bus. As significant as this event was for the civil rights movement, larger events happened in the back roads and farm fields of eastern Arkansas that are just as important as Ms. Parks.

I believe the modern civil rights era began in the 1934 in Poinsett, County when, for the first time a white farmer, Burt Williamson, the son of a Ku Klux Klan leader and a black farmer, Isaac Shaw, the son of a slave, met with sixteen other sharecroppers in a small schoolhouse in Tyronza, Arkansas and formed the Southern Tenants Farmer Union (SFTU). The first time White and Black men came together to form a union. This was groundbreaking and soon spread throughout the entire South.

This event rocked the foundation of the agricultural system in Arkansas and soon the whole of Southern agriculture. But this is not taught in schools neither are other important history lessons involving the Japanese resettlement camps in Arkansas during World War II, German prisoner of war camps throughout eastern Arkansas, the Great Flood of 1927, and the Elaine, Arkansas massacre of 1919.

There are so many important and teachable history lessons from Black History not taught and this is a shame to us.

Everyone wants their rights but few know the history of how these rights came to be nor do they know the struggles others endured to move our society forward in acceptance, tolerance, and mutual respect. This is why, as a white American male, I choose to learn Black history because it has made me a better person. Black history does not belong just to the Black community. Black history and White history are so intertwined together in America that trying to teach one without the other is a dereliction of duty and deprives every student of a richer experience and obtaining a fuller knowledge of their history.

Black history is American history!

Clayton Adams is a West Memphis resident and regular editorial contributor to the Times.

Contact him via email at claytonpadamslll@ gmail. com.

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