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BLACK HISTORY "screwed and chopped"

  • Broadcast in Culture
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by Paul Ruffins

Black history may have seemed “lost, stolen or strayed” at one time, but since then much of the African American past has been rediscovered and reanalyzed.

Unfortunately, this new research hasn’t yet filtered down to high schools, and many students and others still base their thinking on the information that existed in 1968 when CBS News produced the film Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed. At that time, many important works on Black history were more than thirty years out of date. For example, W.E.B. DuBois wrote History of the African Slave Trade in 1896 and Black Reconstruction in 1935, and Dr. Lorenzo Green finished The Negro in Colonial New England, 1620-1776 in 1942.

Over the past thirty years, historians, anthropologists, and other scholars such as John Blassingame, Dr. Eugene Genovese and Ira Berlin have revolutionized the study of African American life, history, and culture.

Some facts are indisputable. A few free Africans came to the New World with Columbus. African slaves first arrived in the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean in 1502 and came to what was to become the United States of America in 1619. Over the next 250 years, some African Americans were freed or freed themselves. The U.S. banned the external slave trade in 1808, and states from Maine to Maryland gradually enacted abolition laws.

Unfortunately, some historical questions may never be answered. For example, although estimates range from thirteen million to thirty million, we will probably never know exactly how many people were taken out of Africa during the slave trade because boats and people were counted differently in different African and European languages.

Black Issues presents some of the latest thinking to help educators lay to rest these ten common myths and misconceptions that distort and oversimplify nearly 500 years of African American history.