Monday, July 13, 2009

Disappearing Voices and Vanishing History!

July 13, 2009

It has been said that he who controls the past controls the future. Our view of history shapes the way we view the present, and therefore it dictates what answers we offer for existing problems.

Until very recently, our history has been almost completely lost due to a combination of fraud, omission, distortion, historical accident, mistaken assumptions, and misplaced historical documents. We must realize and understand that other cultures devote much time and effort to teaching their children family history.

We surely cannot forget the amount of media coverage that was devoted to the passing of Michael Jackson, but only just a few weeks ago we lost two of our most important scholars and teachers and except for the Black Press, hardly any coverage was dedicated to the passing of Dr. John Hope Franklin or Dr. Ivan Van Sertima.

I mention this matter because while Michael deserved all of the attention that he received, Franklin and Van Sertima were essential in making it possible for Michael to compete and achieve in this complex and somewhat racially polarized society.

Dr. John Hope Franklin passed on March 25, 2009. He was best known for his work From Slavery to Freedom, first published in 1947, and continually updated. More than three million copies have been sold. In 1995, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

In the early 1950s, Franklin served on the NAACP Legal Defense Fund team led by Thurgood Marshall that helped develop the case for Brown V. Board of Education that led to the 1954 U. S. Supreme Court decision ending the legal segregation of black and white children in public schools.

Dr. Franklin’s works are so numerous that I would have to devote an entire column just to list a few his publications. He should have been remembered and recognized by more than a few seconds in a newscast.

Dr. Ivan Van Sertima and Dr. Franklin were heroes and highly influential individuals. Their approach to history was through pride and love for African Americans and all people.
Dr. Van Sertima came to the United States in 1970, where he completed his post graduate studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He began his teaching career as an instructor at Rutgers in 1972, and later became Professor of African studies in the Department of Africana Studies.

Van Sertima was a literary critic, a linguist, and an anthropologist, and made a name for him in all three fields. As a linguist, he was the compiler of the Swahili Dictionary of Legal Terms, based on his field word in Tanzania, East Africa in 1967. As a literary critic, he was the author of Caribbean Writers, a collection of critical essays on the Caribbean novel.

He was also the author of several major literary reviews published in Denmark, India, Britain, and the United States. He was recognized for his work in this field by being requested by the Nobel Committee of the Swedish Academy to nominate candidates for the Nobel Prize in Literature from 1976 to 1980.

The cornerstone of Dr. Van Sertima's legacy will probably be his authorship of "They Came before Columbus: the African Presence in Ancient America."

In 1979 Dr. Van Sertima founded the Journal of African Civilizations which quickly gained a reputation for excellence and uniqueness among historical and anthropological journals. Van Sertima wrote: "The destruction of African high-cultures after the massive and continuous invasions of Europe left many Africans surviving on the periphery or outer ring of what constituted the best in African civilizations."

Our ancestors define who we are, and we must remember the teachings of Dr. John Henrik Clarke who reminded us that: "Africa and its people are the most written about and the least understood of all of the world's people. This condition started in the 15th and the 16th centuries with the beginning of the slave trade and the colonialism system. The Europeans not only colonialized most of the world, they began to colonialize information about the world and its people. In order to do this, they had to forget, or pretend to forget, all they had previously known about the Africans. They were not meeting them for the first time; there had been another meeting during Greek and Roman times. At that time they complemented each other."

We must not forget the lessons taught by Dr. Chancellor Williams, or Dr. Leonard Jeffries. We have to read, and encourage others to read.

Everyone should be interested in this crucial and ongoing debate. We should read A.J. Roger's “From Superman to Man," "100 Amazing Facts about the Negro," and "The World's Great Men of Color."

Goodbye Michael, John and Ivan.

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