The Grandfather of Black History
In his 1925 essay, The Negro Digs Up His Past, Arthur Schomburg highlights three major points about the increasingly systematic study of our history and culture…
Gradually as the study of the Negro’s past has come out of the vagaries of rhetoric and propaganda and become systematic and scientific, three outstanding conclusions have been established:
First, that the Negro has been throughout the centuries of controversy an active collaborator, and often a pioneer, in the struggle for his own freedom and advancement. This is true to a degree which makes it the more surprising that it has not been recognized earlier.
Second, that by virtue of their being regarded as something “exceptional,” even by friends and well-wishers, Negroes of attainment and genius have been unfairly disassociated from the group, and group credit lost accordingly.
Third, that the remote racial origins of the Negro, far from being what the race and the world have been given to understand, offer a record of creditable group achievement when scientifically viewed, and more important still, that they are of vital general interest because of their bearing upon the beginnings and early development of culture.
In this critically important essay, Schomburg carefully chronicles the early and evolving effort among our ancestors to document and share information about our history as African people, dispersed throughout the world though we may be.
In closing, Schomburg acknowledges the hard work remaining, and the work for which there will continue to be great resistance, the placement of African people, history and culture into its/our proper context – at the center of world history and civilization…
Of course, a racial motive remains – legitimately compatible with scientific method and aim. The work our race students now regard as important, they undertake very naturally to overcome in part certain handicaps of disparagement and omission too well-known to particularize. But they do so not merely that we may not wrongfully be deprived of the spiritual nourishment of our cultural past, but also that the full story of human collaboration and interdependence may be told and realized.
Especially is this likely to be the effect of the latest and most fascinating of all of the attempts to open up the closed Negro past, namely the important study of African cultural origins and sources. The bigotry of civilization which is the taproot of intellectual prejudice begins far back and must be corrected at its source. Fundamentally it has come about from that depreciation of Africa which has sprung up from ignorance of her true role and position in human history and the early development of culture.
The Negro has been a man without a history because he has been considered a man without a worthy culture. But a new notion of the cultural attainment and potentialities of the African stocks has recently come about, partly through the corrective influence of the more scientific study of African institutions and early cultural history. partly through growing appreciation of the skill and beauty and in many cases the historical priority of the African native crafts, and finally through the signal recognition which first in France and Germany, but now very generally the astonishing art of the African sculptures has received. Into these fascinating new vistas, with limited horizons lifting in all directions, the mind of the Negro has leapt forward faster than the slow clearings of scholarship will yet safely permit.
But there is no doubt that here is a field full of the most intriguing and inspiring possibilities.
Already the Negro sees himself against a reclaimed background, in a perspective that will give pride and self-respect ample scope, and make history yield for him the same values that the treasured past of any people affords.
May Schomburg’s example continue to remind us that there is no substitute for deliberate and thoughtful study.
Our Ancestors deserve nothing less.
Our future generations are depending on it.
Read the actual essay here: