Against the Grain II

Blacks must make a big deal out of Black History Month

Vaughn Wilson

In Florida and around the country, seemingly unprecedented efforts have been made in the political realm to constrain the teaching of Black History. 

Educational regulations have been forwarded to school districts with severe penalties for telling the true story of our history.  In some ways it seems unfathomable that the ability to speak freely has been hampered with severe penalties supported by the law.  More importantly, there are efforts to soften our brutal ancestry with straight up falsehoods.  It’s our problem to solve.

The motto of the institution of Black newspapers that still resonates today could not have been more prophetic. On March 16, 1827, the first Black newspaper called the Freedom’s Journal was published. Splattered across the front were the words “We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us.”  With today’s environment of whitewashing our culture, these words unfortunately are true now.

The first Black newspapers were developed as a way for truth to be told to power.  They were a way of accurate recollection and contain vital stories of the true Black history. 

I argue that Black newspapers are more important today than ever.  Even in its infancy, the freedom to speak was not legislated away.  In 2024, that right to freely express oneself is being tactically hampered unfortunately, particularly by the Republican Party.

In North Florida, papers like the Capital Outlook maintain its independence.  In central Florida, Tempo News continues to carry on that tradition.  In South Florida, the Westside Gazette carries the flame of pleading our own cause.  There are several more newspapers in the state and across the country whose sole purpose is to forward the ideals of news from a Black perspective without filter. 

The National Newspaper Publishers Association, which is the national organization of these publications, works to enhance the content, visibility and sustainability of the current best means of documenting Black history.

Dr. Toni Draper, the publisher of the 130-year-old AFRO in Baltimore and Washington brings home the plight of Blacks to their relevance in traditional publications from the start.

“The Black Press was founded in 1827 and African Americans were not in any of the pages of the White-owned press unless there was an advertisement of our sale, of our resale, or us having run away from slave owners or plantations.”

Value for oneself cannot be determined by others. It is determined by self-worth. Frederick Douglass owned the North Star, which was an abolitionist paper aimed at helping Blacks escape slavery into safe havens. During the Antebellum era, his influence blossomed through his writings.

Black papers often contain biographies of people who have excelled in the community that may or may not have reached the mainstream news.  Black history is what we make it to be. It can never be defined by an asphyxiation of truth. It can never be defined by a political party.  It can never be defined out of convenience.  It can only be defined by the true accomplishment of Black people and the continuance of advocacy for telling our stories without filter.

The restrictions placed on schools in Florida in July 2023 have long term ramifications. The guidelines set for by the Florida Board of Education in a Republican-controlled state, reflect more of a communistic rule where there is no freedom to speak. Coming under Florida’s ‘Stop Woke Act” deterring from the standard could lead to firing and even imprisonment. The root of the action is said to be to impede making those of a particular race from feeling guilty by the actions of their ancestors.

No one in power took any thought in how slaves were treated.  They scoffed at recognizing the heroes, stole the patents from some of the greatest Black inventors and appropriated the music and arts of our culture. Now after all of that, we in some forums are forbidden to tell the truth about what happened.  We’re not talking about propagandizing…but teaching of documented true facts.

Today, maybe as much as ever, Black history must be protected.  It cannot be allowed to fade into oblivion.  Black newspapers must continue to take the lead and churches, civic groups and other organizations must continue to ensure that an accurate account of what happened since we came to this country is not lost but passed down from generations to come.

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