Whites in Black History

I had a co-worker ask me an interesting question yesterday regarding history. It’s a question that I’m sure many of you have wondered, asked or answered at some point. His question, “I wonder what it would be like if there was a White History Month?”

I immediately said that Black History is apart of all of our history. There were many people who were not Black who made great contributions to history that is connected, benefited or attributed to Blacks in America. I’m not sure if he really got it or even cared, but it did offer me a good topic.

The roles of Whites in Black History:

What you may not know about the roles Whites played in Black History?

We all celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the NAACP. What I think is fascinating about the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People is how it was founded. A coalition of men and women, both Black and White joined together to help start the NAACP. One of the founding members was a White Woman by the name of Mary White Ovington.

Levi Coffin, a Quaker, is credited with helping more than 3,000 slaves find freedom by maintaining his home in Newport, IN as a haven for Blacks on the Underground Railroad.

Samuel Chapman Armstrong, a white general who commanded a black regiment during the Civil War, founded Hampton University, a historically black college in Virginia.

Viola Liuzzo was a 39 year old White housewife from Detroit, Michigan that came to Alabama to help register Black people to vote before she was brutally murdered by the Klan.

Lamar Smith was shot dead on the courthouse lawn by a white man in broad daylight while dozens of people watched. The killer was never indicted because no one would admit they saw a white man shoot a black man. Smith had organized blacks to vote in a recent election.

Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, young civil rights workers were arrested by a deputy sheriff and then released into the hands of Klansmen who had plotted their murders. They were shot, and their bodies were buried in an earthen dam.

Rev. James Reeb was a Unitarian minister from Boston, was among many white clergymen who joined the Selma marchers after the attack by state troopers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Reeb was beaten to death by white men while he walked down a Selma street.

Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopal Seminary student in Boston, had come to Alabama to help with black voter registration in Lowndes County. He was arrested at a demonstration, jailed in Hayneville and then suddenly released. Moments after his release, he was shot to death by a deputy sheriff.

Footnote: There’s a movie about this one that Yolanda D. King acted in that was very good and told of Mr. Jonathan Daniels’ story and role during the Civil Rights Movement.

There are so many instances of Whites who were equally apart and equally vested in the history of Blacks in the U.S. To make such a statement that they’re should be a White History Month shows that you do not know your history and you’ve missed the point of Black History.

I can go on forever on this topic, because it’s always been one of interest to me. It’s not just a nice White guy like my co-worker who misinterprets this part of our history, but I know many Blacks who miss it too. It seems like I continue to harp back on this theme, but it’s true. Dr. Martin Luther King said that we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. I am not what I am supposed to be until you are what you are supposed to be. We are all in this together.

Black history is not exclusively Black and to think that it is such is an indicator for the need of the month. 28 days is not enough time to reverse what history has dictated to us for years.

One theme I found was the common denominator in diversity of all of the people mentioned other than their race was the role that their beliefs played. This is just another reason why you should never allow anyone to tell you without challenge that people of different religious beliefs, races, gender or locale can not work in harmony for a common cause. These people enacted their own public policy on racial equality. What’s Yours?

References & Inspirations:
NPR: News & Notes – 10/15/07 “White Southerners’ Role in Civil Rights
USA Today – 02/09/06 “Many Whites Among Civil Rights Heroes
Paperless Archives – AL KKK FBI File “Viola Liuzzo Murder

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3 thoughts on “Whites in Black History

  1. Interesting post Tim b/c you took me in several different directions. Since I’ve mentioned the “Race Are We so Different?” exhibit before, hopefully I can do my post on the exhibit tomorrow.

    A sincere question. I went to a diverse university … and like all, we have an alumni association … but with some black alumni chapters. I can see both plusses and minuses for having such a chapter. Just curious on your thoughts.

    1. Thanks.

      Well I guess it depends on the school. For example: If you went to Fisk University (Historically Black University) I would love to see something like a White, Asian or Latino Alumni Assoc. I honestly wouldn’t have a probably with it, because this school is known as a historically Black Univ. If its a school like Ole Miss or U of SD I wouldn’t see the problem with a Black Alum Assoc because the school is historically White.

      But for a school like Berkley (U of CA) just to name one that is known to be racially diverse I wouldn’t see much need to emphasis the alum chapter by race. In fact, isn’t that a form of segregation or exclusivism? (Hmmm, make note for Tue or Wed post)

      I have no issues of having pride in your race, but we all should honestly pride ourselves in the accomplishments and contributions of all races. An organization, group or business that includes Race, Culture or Religion in its name is fine, but it needs to be mindful of not excluding because of its name.

      Let me give an example and I’ll shut-up.

      Many minority, cultural and religious groups have put tags on their associations, organizations, buildings to distinguish themselves, which is OK. It is only not OK when they use it to discriminate or exclude or have the “us against them” mentality. That’s when the association becomes destructive, for its members and those non-members looking in.

      I’ve been discriminated against by individuals of many races including my own. I understand where they may be coming from, but I’m usually aware of the smell of discriminatory practice because it will eventually stink up the room if unchecked.

  2. Tim …. thanks for your well-reasoned response … of which I’m not surprised. Simply well said and thanks for keeping me thinking.

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