5 In Search of a Usable Past: Possible Roots for Racial Pride
5.1 The Significance of a Black Historical Consciousness: Creating an African-American Memory Culture It has come to us . . . a realization of that past, of which for long years we have been ashamed, for which we have apologized. We thought nothing could come out of that past which we wanted to remember; which we wanted to hand down to our children. Suddenly, this same past is taking on form, color and reality, and in a half shamefaced way we are beginning to be proud of it.591 When The Brownies’ Book was published, black history was either subordinated to white history or – more often – even not acknowledged at all. Du Bois declares himself “aghast” at the fact that white historians had managed “by libel, innuendo and silence” to misstate and obliterate black history to such a degree that it turned out to be “almost unknown.” 592 Many young African-Americans had to share William Henry Harrison’s experience. In 1935, he states in the introduction to his monograph that he “was greatly surprised and Race pridely hurt not to find any history, except about slavery, in such books concerning the American Negro.”593 He explains that he had “such childish confidence” in his school books and their authors that he “felt sure if Negroes had fought and died in the several American wars; had become great poets, orators, artists, sculptors, etc., the histories [he] was studying would have mentioned such.”594 However, Du Bois realized that defining black identity solely in terms of the...
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