On UP with Chris Hayes,Chris ends each hour by asking his panelists the same question. It's the one we could all be asking as we engage in newspaper reading, political program watching: What do we know that we did not know before? I've appreciated the reminder on how to be more reflective about new information.
Black History Month traces its origin to 1926 when it was conceived by Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) as Negro History Week.
" When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his "proper place" and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary."
-- Dr. Carter G. Woodson, "The Miseducation of the Negro" (1933)
The 2012 observance of Black History Month on PBS had highs and lows-- my, not very humble opinion. The most useful take-away from the program that received the much promotion and commenorative button at top, "More than a Month" was being re-introduced to the writings of Dr. Woodson. Filmmaker, Shukree Tilghman, learned about him on a visit to The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, the group Woodson founded that keeps the yearly event in play.
Otherwise the program was annoying, too focused on the filmmaker's being clever. For a more nuanced perspective than mine, Channing Kennedy of ColorLines questions Tilghman on his provocative premise that Black History Month is "always about the same four people," and focuses too much on slavery. By the end of the film, Tilghman has encounters that change his mind. He might have used clips from Anthony Stewart's video. Produced in 2008, its goal was to promote reading Woodson's 20th century book for its 21st century applicability.
"SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME" was the kind of PBS production that reminded us of the old days. That time when the corporation presented intellectually stimulating and genuinely controversial programs rather than the faux and jokey "More Than a Month."
Both of us thought we were pretty well-informed about slavery. Ron Bloom taught at an historically black university, Morgan State, for most of his professional life, worked with health care professionals at Harlem Hospital until a few years ago. We lived for almost 30 years in Baltimore, Maryland, a predominantly black city with a deep history and present of racism. Peonage, "debt slavery" was completely unknown to either of us. That's embarrassing for white progressives to acknowledge but true. How much more do we not know?
...debt slavery or debt servitude, is a system where an employer compels a worker to pay off a debt with work. Legally, peonage was outlawed by Congress in 1867. However, after Reconstruction, many Southern black men were swept into peonage though different methods, and the system was not completely eradicated until the 1940s.
Douglas A. Blackmon, co-executive producer and, author of "Slavery by Another Name", is Atlanta Bureau Chief at the Wall Street Journal. Next week he answers questions at a screening: Princeton University on March 7 in McCormick Hall, in case you live nearby. I'm hoping he gets to blindingly-white Portland, Oregon, before next year's Month, and reveals how continued peonage in the U.S. illuminates the unthinkable: Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Declaration did not end slavery.
“Why is Black History only acknowledged during the shortest, and one of the coldest, months of the year; in the dead of winter?” Dr. Carter G. Woodson, 1926