SOL Tuesday: Kwanzaa 2021–Rescuing African-American History: Success Before the Civil Rights Movement, Booker T. Washington & the Rest, by J.D. Meyer

We’re having Kwanzaa again in Tyler, TX, as it was canceled last year because of the COVID-19. The director invited me to help set up at the library auditorium and talk to a local conservativeTV station. I was warned that much of the questioning would likely revolve around, “Why would a White person attend Kwanzaa? (OK, 7/8 White).” The seven principles of Kwanzaa are (1) Unity, (2) Self-Determination, (3) Collective Work & Responsibility, (4) Cooperative Economics, (5) Purpose, (6) Creativity, and (7) Faith. These are universal concepts that anyone could study, enjoy, and live by. Furthermore, it’s easy to compliment your home city’s achievements with this analytical tool. I believe Kwanzaa enables us to serve as a public intellectual–someone who is trying to use his/her education to benefit society in areas outside one’s areas of expertise.

I’ve always had multicultural interests, starting with Japan and Pre-Columbian history in grade school. My interdisciplinary M.S. thesis was, “Approaching Cognitive-Behavioral and Existential Therapy through Neo-Confucianism.” My favorite music interests have moved from soul to melodic heavy metal to Tejano, and I still like them all. Today was my sixth anniversary of joining a Facebook closed group: Friends from A-Far: A Confucianism group! (We prefer the term, Ru. Missionaries named us after Confucius). I’ve been a taqueria fan for decades.

I first learned about Kwanzaa when I was a substitute teacher (among other jobs) in the Garland ISD during the late ’90s. Since I usually subbed in elementary grades, I found some Kwanzaa books for young kids. Later, I became a full-time Developmental English instructor at Texas College, the HBCU in Tyler, from 2001-06. I wrote and copyrighted a textbook for my course, which included a chapter on African-American Studies. Sometimes, I gave a Black History essay assignment. I encouraged the students to choose a happy topic, so they wouldn’t get depressed and not finish their assignment. I’ve been the main speaker for six Kwanzaa nights between 2002-2016, as well as some general lectures on Kwanzaa elsewhere. Reverend Reginald Garrett always does Faith night, the seventh and final night of Kwanzaa.

This year, I already had a topic for a Kwanzaa talk, centered around discussing African-American success after slavery but before the civil rights movement. African-American history has rarely been so endangered in recent memory. The radical political right claims that we must not teach Critical Race Theory in elementary or secondary school. Actually, it’s a law school topic; that is graduate college. The warning seems to be code for not admitting that slavery happened.

On the other hand, my approach is influenced by an article by Elizabeth Wright, “Keeping the Spotlight on Failure: How to Make Sure the Patient Doesn’t Get Well.” Ms. Wright explains that Black history is normally taught as (1) uprooting from Africa into slavery, (2) freedom followed by segregation, and Jim Crow laws, and (3) civil rights leaders bring integration and success. However, there were many successful entrepreneurs and educators in the segregated era. Alas, the website is gone! Booker T. Washington asserted that the ability to make a dollar was important than being able to spend it in the theater of your choice. Economic success would precede change in the law. Booker T. Washington became the first president of Tuskegee University in Alabama. The practical education focus was agriculture and engineering. This led to the Morrill Act that provided state funding for colleges in each state specializing in fields such as agriculture, engineering, and more. Matthew Gaines of Brenham, Texas–a Black man–was instrumental in the founding of Texas A&M. Charles and Ana Spaulding founded the Mutual Life Insurance Company of Durham, North Carolina–a city hailed by BTW and W.E.B. DuBois as the city with the nicest White folks in the USA, together with North Carolina Central–a leading HBCU. Martin Delaney (1812-1885) was hailed as the Malcolm X of the 19th Century, for he was the first Black field officer, a medical doctor, and a book and magazine author! The list goes on. My approach this time could probably be classified as Black Conservative.

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