By Mikel Kwaku Osei Holt
History is generally written by the conqueror. Whoever possesses the largest sword, has the last word. That’s a lesson students need to know as they pick up a history book. He who controls the pen, gets to write HIS-STORY from their perspective, which may or may not be an accurate depiction of what took place, and why. I was explaining that fact recently to a student I’ve been mentoring who was taken aback when I introduced conflicting historical facts to what he had previously “learned.” President Abe Lincoln did not free the slaves, and in fact, he wasn’t the first to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. And when he finally did, it was more a tactical decision than one motivated by Christian tenets or human compassion. Most of the so-called “founding fathers” were hypocrites at best. Like Thomas Jefferson, they talked a good game about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, when in fact they were themselves cruel merchants of African flesh, known for raping their slaves even as in the distance you could make out the image of the bible through the flicking candlelight. Oh excuse me. It wasn’t rape, because they didn’t believe we were human. You can’t rape a sheep or a cow, can you? To say these “patriots” were good, Christian men is like saying Milwaukee Serial Killer Jeffrey Dahmer was a good neighbor. Some of the founding fathers participated in the most inhumane, cruel form of slavery known to mankind. My young mentor’s and my discussion was sparked by the student’s statement that he wanted to be a history teacher, a career I applauded as both a noble profession, but also a powerful liberation tool for those in need of a historical foundation. But I cautioned him that false history could be used to mislead and imprison people. Conversely, it can serve as a catalyst to empower people, particularly Black people who have been fed a daily diet of misinformation. There was a reason why slaves were not allowed to read and it had nothing to do with a language barrier. Knowledge is power! And knowing who and what we are puts into a different perspective where we are today and where we would have been had we known from the beginning. For example, if I could prove we were the first man, the Garden of Eden was in Africa and Jesus was a Black man, that information would have jeopardized the justification for American slavery and the concept of White superiority. The discovery that Africans opened the first college known to mankind and held classes in the sciences, including medicine, when Europeans were still living in caves and trying to figure out whether the tag on their briefs should be in the front or the back, was powerful information that could usurp the steadfast belief that we are intellectually inferior. The world’s first genius, Imenhotep, was doing autopsies when his Northern neighbors were discovering how to make a wheel. Greeks and Roman studied at his feet and learned more than philosophy; they also learned math and aerodynamics. Scan forward a few centuries. Black men and women were the masterminds behind the discovery of electricity, the steam engine and even plasma. A Black physician performed the first open heart surgery, Many of the aforementioned “discoveries” can be found in newer history books or at least presented during Black History Month as trivia questions. What generally is not known are the subtle rewrites of history that paint the picture that America is something it is not, that we were always on the side of righteousness and God paved the path for us. Tell that to the Native Americans, who had their land stolen, their people murdered and their culture dismantled all in the name of “Manifest Destiny.” The history books paint a picture of Native Americans as being uncultured savages who murdered “settlers” for no reason than blood lust. The reality is Americans invaded their land, murdered all who opposed their will and forced survivors to live in what at best could be called concentration camps. And to provide a more personal, closer look, Atkinson Avenue, which runs through Milwaukee’s central city was named after a general whose claim to fame was the mass murder of Wisconsin Indians. As one historic journal described, he had his horse soldiers stump on the heads of peace loving braves and the fetuses cut out of the stomachs of murdered mothers. Speaking of conquerors, the history books paint a picture of the “Texicans” who fought for their “freedom” and “independence” from the vicious, war mongering Mexicans. The truth of the matter is, it was a hostile takeover rooted, in part, on the “Americans” desire to bring slavery into the territory. The Mexicans had outlawed slavery years earlier. But along came Davy Crockett, a known supporter of slavery, and Jim Bowie and Colonel Bill Travis, who actually brought their slaves with them to the Alamo. According to some reports the only survivors of the Alamo battle were two slaves and a small group of women and children. We can only assume what happened to the newly freed former slaves, but I would hope they caught the fastest available means of transportation and headed up North, even though it wasn’t a picnic for people of color up here. Unwritten history is full of examples of laws to keep Black folks “in their place,” of riots before, during, and after the Civil War started by angry and bigoted Whites. Hundreds, maybe thousands of innocent Black men and women were lynched, burned at the stake and otherwise savagely killed in New York by Whites who were mad at the conscription act (draft). That riot was replicated in dozens of cities around the country. And there were thousands of Black men lynched in the 20th century for (supposedly) looking at a White woman, or not saying “nah sah” or “Yah sah Boss” fast enough. And you could fill a library with Northern ordinances enacted to keep the races separated. Even in Milwaukee, there were covenants that restricted where Black Milwaukeeans could live. The open housing marches provided my first opportunity to participate in the Civil Rights Movement. A short time later, Black folks chained themselves to bulldozers to stop the construction of a new high school on the west side of town because no Black students would be allowed to attend. Remember also that back in the 1970s, the League of Martin had to sue the city of Milwaukee to hire Black police officers. Black firefighters followed suit. And it’s no coincidence that today Milwaukee is among the most segregated cities in the United States. That’s a tad bit ironic because a century ago, abolitionists marched from Waukesha to the county jail to break out an escaped slave who then fled to Canada. The real irony is that today, you can count on your hands the number of Black families who live in Waukesha, the home of the Freedman newspaper. Yes, my young brother, teach history. But make sure you include those faded pages they don’t want you know about. Because only a true picture can provide the roadmap, and explain how we got here. Hotep.
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