It’s time to restore real black history: recognition of achievement and overcoming obstacles as citizens integral to this great nation.
The first black studies department opened at San Francisco State University in 1968, much to the chagrin of conservative black columnist George Schuyler, who had advocated teaching black history since he began his journalism career in 1923 at the black socialist monthly magazine The Messenger.
His objection had to do with the radicalization, politicization, and attendant distortion of black history. Schuyler fearlessly mocked patronizing white liberals and attacked exploitative white communists. During his extended travels to the South in 1925-1926 for the Pittsburgh Courier, Schuyler reported on the accomplishments of black areas of towns and cities and came to admire people like “Mr. James,” who built up a profitable produce wholesale company in Charleston, West Virginia.
In the 1920s, despite segregation and Ku Klux Klan resurgence, most black Americans took great pride in economic independence and their performance as soldiers in all the country’s wars. Black leaders such as James Weldon Johnson, Kelly Miller, and William Pickens staked their claim as Americans and distinguished themselves from black Africans. In 1922, they took part in the bipartisan “[Marcus] Garvey Must Go!” campaign against the black nationalist who had ludicrously declared himself the president of Africa. In the 1950s, Schuyler began championing Booker T. Washington and his belief in black economic self-empowerment.
This is a far cry from Democrats’ disrespectful reaction to President Donald Trump’s public honoring of 100-year-old Tuskegee Airman Brig. Gen. Charles McGee during the State of the Union address. It reveals the influence of white socialists and communists who radicalized young blacks, primarily on college campuses in the 1960s. In Schuyler’s April 23, 1955, column, he reported on the “bore from within” strategy discussed in a Political Affairs article and warned readers to expect “a mass invasion of Reds, crypto-Communists and fellow travelers into the NAACP, Urban League, churches, fraternities, societies, etc.”
Teaching the Wrong Version of Black History
This strategy included education. White socialist Tom Kahn enrolled in 1960 at Howard University to radicalize black students while pretending to fight for civil rights. In 1956, Spelman College hired Howard Zinn, who had been a card-carrying Communist Party USA member from about 1948 to 1953. In 1963, he was fired for insubordination by the college’s first black and first male president.
Zinn used the cover of civil rights to radicalize students. He turned them against the administration — as well as their parents and church leaders — by encouraging them to defy rules about chapel attendance and curfews. In the Aug. 6, 1960, issue of The Nation, Zinn bragged about transforming a Christian women’s college from what he denigrated as a “finishing school” to a “school for protest.”
The evidence of Zinn’s disdain for the United States, which he called a “myth” and a “pretense,” is abundant. For example, he told students that under our system of government, voting made no difference, and in the 1960s, he advocated on behalf of the North Vietnamese enemy as he led anti-draft protests. In his magnum opus, “A People’s History of the United States,” first published in 1980, Zinn grossly distorted American history through selective and misleading quotations, critical omissions, plagiarism of dubious sources, and invention of facts to present a racist country, irredeemable because of capitalism and nationalism.
Sadly, the Zinn version of black history is the one almost always taught to students during Black History Month. As I point out in my book, “Debunking Howard Zinn,” Zinn studiously ignored the achievements of the anti-communist NAACP, praised black communists who often sacrificed fellow blacks to the party, and valorized the Black Panthers and black Muslim separatists such as Malcolm X. Zinn also left out key critical facts about Frederick Douglass, making him appear, as Zinn did with all other blacks, a helpless victim of the American system — wherein blacks’ only hope lay with white communists, a fact unnoticed by today’s critics of “white saviorism.”
Changing the Celebration of Black History
The Zinn push has unfortunately tainted the celebration of black history. Even the U.S. Department of Education newsletter linked to suggested readings including Malcolm X’s autobiography and James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time.” Time Magazine recommended six movies, all about anger, sexuality, or the Black Panthers.
It did not recommend “Created Equal,” the stunning new movie about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In fact, Time gave most space to a group inspiring riots and police assassinations, Black Lives Matter. During the first week of February, teachers in the country’s three largest school districts — New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles — wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts to school.
Time cited Ursula Wolfe-Rocca, a white teacher from Portland, Oregon, and lead curriculum writer at the Zinn Education Project. Although enjoying nonprofit status as an educational organization, ZEP is overtly political, offering Zinn-inspired downloadable lessons, videos, and books that weave in Trump attacks, conduct smear campaigns against educational organizations, such as the Bill of Rights Institute, and offer materials for the Boston Teachers Union to participate in the Black Lives Matter Week of Action and “Abolish Columbus Day” classroom kits for lobbying on the state, city, and school level.
Time presents ZEP as meeting “the rising demand for resources.” As evidence of the success of teaching black history, the article offers the 80 percent success rate of students, including in underperforming schools, in passing a pilot Advanced Placement African diaspora pilot program. The Columbia Teachers College’s Institute for Urban and Minority Education website, where it was developed, reveals an ideological focus on “common experiences across the diaspora such as imperialism, resistance to oppression and cultural practices.”
After also delving into “music, dance, cuisine, customs and other foundational chapters in the black experience,” students are encouraged to “engage in an inner dialogue with themselves” — part of what one teacher called a “healing process.” “Success” is measured by testimonials from students such as Thalias Henry, who said “he is now able to draw a direct line from the African continent to ‘events in the real world’ such as Ferguson and Black Lives Matter.”
Kayla Sergeant came to appreciate the connection of a “special food … to a specific tribe or people.” According to an article published in the last days of the Obama administration by the American Historical Association’s then-President Patrick Manning, the program was intended “to reach beyond the existing AP constituency.” But the 100 percent nonwhite participation rate indicates a reverse bias. The focus on the diaspora continues the focus on African and not American identity.
The ‘1619 Project’ Injects Racism into America’s DNA
Similarly, The New York Times’ “1619 Project” attempts to de-mythologize the 1776 founding date by presenting the arrival of a ship bearing about 20 Africans in 1619 as the beginning of an exploitation legacy. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also takes that time, “400 years ago,” as the launch for its series on Black History Month, interviewing Morehouse College professor Frederick Knight, who “specializes in the African Diaspora.” (Yet the linked black history quiz concerns mostly black celebrities and sports stars.)
Under the “1619 Project,” even the old Marxist slogan of “black and white, unite and fight” is abandoned, as the project’s critics find a home at the World Socialist. The charge of racism being in the DNA of this country recalls Zinn’s claim that American racism was not limited to prejudiced individuals but baked into the structure of the country. The “1619 Project” delivers a false toxic narrative of universal black victimization and universal white oppression, spurring racial animus.
It’s time to restore real black history: recognition of achievement and overcoming obstacles as citizens integral to this great nation. The examples of George Schuyler, Booker T. Washington, Charles McGee, Clarence Thomas, and Mr. James offer good places to start during Black History Month.
Mary Grabar, the author of "Debunking Howard Zinn," earned her PhD from the University of Georgia and taught college English for 20 years. She is now a resident fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization in Clinton, New York. Her writing can be found at DissidentProf.com and at marygrabar.com.