January 19, 2023

Exalting Black Achievement and Success Stories

We have lost Uncle Tom as a wonderful positive role model through sheer ignorance and intellectual cowardice.

The time is overdue to turn the page on the backward-looking 1619 Project. Has it caused a single black person to better themselves and to set a standard to which the wise and honest may repair?

The path forward is to exalt, celebrate and salute black achievement and success stories to inspire the living and those yet to be born to strive for excellence and courage.

It should be underscored that the achievers and successes represent a rich diversity of thought and convictions. They marched to their own drummers even if it meant encountering stiff head winds. Nothing is more insulting or demoralizing than to be told that your ambitions, viewpoints and philosophy are predetermined by your race.

Let us begin with miseducation about a fictional character: Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” published in 1852. Uncle Tom is extraordinarily Christian. The climax of the story comes when Uncle Tom is asked to reveal where two slave women are hiding, who had been sexually abused by their cruel master Simon Legree. Uncle Tom refuses. Knowing that he is going to be beaten to death, he refuses to reveal their whereabouts. In other words, Uncle Tom signed away his life to save two black women — the very definition of heroic.

But later movies and critics airbrushed out the true Uncle Tom in the novel. They substituted a craven, docile, submissive black man to be execrated — akin to substituting Satan for Jesus. No one protested or corrected the dastardly falsehood. Uncle Tom today is understood as a slur to disparage a black person thought to be humiliatingly subservient or deferential to white people.

But the real Uncle Tom was a hero. Just read the novel. It has been in the public domain for more than 170 years. It is not ambiguous about Uncle Tom’s gallant bravery. The true Uncle Tom infuriated slaveholders, which is why President Abraham Lincoln quipped upon meeting author Stowe in 1862, “(S)o you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”

We have lost Uncle Tom as a wonderful positive role model through sheer ignorance and intellectual cowardice.

Crispus Attucks anticipated the genuine Uncle Tom. He escaped slavery to become a mariner. He was murdered during the 1770 Boston Massacre, the first casualty in the American Revolution. In death, Attucks was afforded honors that no person of color — particularly one who had escaped slavery — had ever received before in America. Samuel Adams, spearhead of the Revolution, organized a procession to transport Attucks’ casket to Boston’s Faneuil Hall, where Attucks lay in state for three days before the victims’ public funeral. An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 people — more than half of Boston’s population — joined in the procession that carried the caskets of Attucks and the other victims of the Boston Massacre to the graveyard.

Attucks became a symbol in the 1840s for African American activists in the abolitionist movement, who promoted him as an example of a black citizen and a patriot. He gave the lie to Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s counter-factual, racist assertion in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) that African Americans “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Martin Luther King wrote in 1964 that black schoolchildren “know that the first American to shed blood in the revolution that freed his country from British oppression was a Black seaman named Crispus Attucks.” Could he write that same sentence today?

The black pantheon includes the likes of Dr. King, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, W.E.B. DuBois, William Monroe Trotter, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Jesse Owens, the Tuskegee Airmen, Paul Robeson, Ralph Bunche, William Hastie, William Coleman, Jackie Robinson, Edward Brooke, Muhammad Ali, Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell and Ben Carson. A complete list is impossible as a concession to the shortness of life and article space. I regret the omission of many other deserving black Americans. All have proven the electrifying truth of the poem “Invictus” (“unconquered” in Latin) by William Ernest Henley: “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”

Dwell on the positive, not the negative, in black history. Exult over the glorious possibilities for the future rather than cry forever over split milk. Every parent knows a child is doomed if given excuses for failure like manna falling from heaven. Scapegoating accomplishes only stagnation. Everyone is capable of genius: “(O)ne percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” according to inventor-genius Thomas Edison.

Go for it!


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