Born Black: The Pride and the Pain
Author: H.D. Armstrong

Chapter 2
HERITAGE

CHAPTER 2

Heritage

 

 

     It is the heart of my soul and the soul of my heart. It is the dagger that stabs my mind. It is the thirst in my throat and the hunger in my stomach. It is my past, present and future. It is the greatest source of my pride and pain-- Africa.

This American society has been flooded with myths and misinformation about Africa. The media has painted a portrait of Africa as being one big jungle, consisting only of wild animals and naked savages, running around with spears. They have completely ignored the restaurants, deluxe apartments, skyscrapers, automobiles, highways, businesses, and surprisingly, the brightly colored clothing. The misrepresentations have been so negative and embarrassing that many African Americans have restrained themselves from acknowledging the truth about their heritage. Many more have chosen to disassociate themselves from having African ancestry. It is important that African Americans rediscover, re-associate and re-educate themselves with the motherland. We must begin the lesson with a more accurate form of identity. The terms “Minority” and “Black” are commonly used in reference to African Americans. The problem with these terms is that they fail to connect the people with the land, history and culture. When referring to people from France, the term “French” is used. When referring to people from Japan, the term “Japanese” is used. When referring to people from China, the term “Chinese” is used. There is no country or land called “Minority,” “Negro” or “Black”. The implication is that African Americans have no history or background that is distinctly their own. By separating Africans from their land, language, customs, names and history, slave masters induced a form of brainwashing to not only, make the slaves forget about their cultural heritage, but to have them associate themselves with an American identity. Sadly, effectively and perpetually, it worked, and with every new generation, we slide farther away from the truth about who we are and from where we came. Furthermore, this has created a situation among African Americans that can best be described as The Wagon and the Horses scenario. The wagon represents the core of African Americans. The horses represent the people. Within the core are the needs, values, ideas, soul, culture and heritage of African Americans. The core of a people should move along with them. It is a thing to be embraced, admired, respected and held in the highest regard. The people should carry that core with them, so that the essence of their heritage exudes from their consciousness. The problem facing African Americans is that the horses are unbridled and detached from the wagon. Consequently, the wagon cannot move. So, as the horses venture farther away from the wagon, grazing in foreign pastures, their legacy, spirit and purpose become lost and forgotten.  

     Numerous publications depict the life and times of black people in America. There are detailed accounts of events that took place during and after slavery in America. In contrast, not nearly enough has been written about our history in Africa. It is understandable that so many African Americans find it difficult to associate themselves with their African ancestry. It is frustrating and painful to me that there is so much attention being focused on black history, as it relates to life in America. We are “graciously” allocated one month out of the year, for paying tribute to our history. During this time, we are spoon-fed thirty-second biographies about African Americans that lived and died in the United States. Most of whom, we are already familiar, i.e., Hariett Tubman, Jesse Owens, and of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. Writer, Alex Haley’s quest for the truth about his family’s “roots”, led him on a surprising journey outside the walls of America. Now, it is time for all African Americans to travel beyond the red, white and blue boundaries. It is time to rediscover our history, heritage and ancestry. It is time to breach the barrier that separates us from “true” freedom.

 

     People all over the world have grown accustomed to associating dark skin with inferiority. Dark skin is recognized as the trademark of slavery and the badge of an uncivilized nation. Consider the following passage from Kate Chopin’s short story, Desiree’s Baby:

 “...I thank the good God for having so arranged our lives that our dear Armand will never know that his mother, who adores him, belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery.”

 

To early Africans, the blackness of their skin was the definition of honor. This was based on their religious belief that they were “children of the sun”, and therefore, blessed with blackness by the Sun God. The early Africans were a proud people, and their legacy is an extension of that pride. The dynasty of black civilization began in Nowe, one of the oldest cities on earth. The conquest of Egypt by the Ethiopian leader, Menes, in 3100 B.C. gave birth to a civilization of black kings and queens. Twenty-five dynasties covering more than two-thousand years produced an impressive line of descent. King Khufu, 2590-67 B.C., began the tradition of building pyramids. Before modern times, the Great Pyramid was the largest man-made structure. The king’s nephew, Khafre, built the second Great Pyramid. Then, during his reign as pharaoh, he had the Great Sphinx carved in his image. Not only, were the Africans the first brick and stonemasons, but they developed Egyptian, one of the earliest written languages. These societies of Africans were scientists, mathematicians, architects, engineers, sculptors, farmers and teachers. In addition to labor, philosophy and religion were integral parts of their lives. Thebes, known as the “Mother of Cities,” was the center of religion in Africa. Religion was more than a ceremony; it was a way of life. The early Africans believed in life after death. Their belief in immortality served as an inspiration for the large-scale construction of temples that would stand for thousands of years. It was a tribute to the Gods and Goddesses that they believed gave them life, courage and wisdom. Not only were the monuments great in size, but they were great in numbers as well. In the ancient city of Karnak, even today, there are more ruins of temples than anywhere in the world. Religion was a focal point in wealth and political power. It was the role of the king or chief to offer prayers and sacrifices to the Gods. The people in the kingdom were submissive and obedient to their Gods; therefore, the closer the rulers were to the Gods, the more loyal the people were to the rulers. Their religion, which inspired art, economics and science, also, gave birth to history, music and dance. Those who told stories of conquests and conquerors became the first historians. Their songs and dances fulfilled expressions of joy, praise, worship. It is how they appealed to the Gods for bountiful harvests, victory in wars, healing and defense against evil spirits. Religion was such a priority that spiritual survival was more important to them than physical survival.

     Royalty was a tradition in the early African civilization. It would take too long to go into detail on every king and queen, but one idea tied them all together-- it was a commitment to family, honor and perseverance. Menes, the first king of Thebes, ruled for 62 years, and his nephew, Anthones, ruled for 59 years. Nefertari was one of the great black queens of Egypt. She and her son, Amenhotep, were active in the process of national reconstruction. Queen Hatsheput, daughter of Thutmose I, was as great as any king was. She was active in the pursuit of foreign trade, international relations and national defense. Queen Tiy married Amenhotep III and gave birth to Amenhotep IV, known more famously as Ikhanaton. After 17 years, he died in 1362 B.C., leaving the reins to his stepson, Tutankhamen. Queen Candace, Empress of Ethiopia, was one of the greatest generals of all time; even Alexander the Great was afraid of her. Shyaam I, King of Kuba, inspired an economic revolution in 1630. New crops such as corn, tobacco, yams and beans were introduced. When asked if yams and tobacco would grow in Kuba, the king replied, “Let’s find out.”  Skilled crafts such as woodcarving and basket weaving were expanded. New techniques were introduced and methods of production improved. All this economic activity meant a marked transition from a subsistence to a surplus economy; thus, general prosperity was achieved through the expansion of markets and foreign trade. Queen Nzinga said that the real savages in Africa were the white people. In 1662, she went to Luanda on behalf of her brother, King Ndongo, to negotiate peace with the Portuguese governor. When the governor refused her a chair, one of her attendants got down on his hands and knees, and allowed  her to sit on his back. Her attendants took turns, as they considered it an honor. King Kalydos led the African army in victory against invading Arab troops at the Battle of the Makurian Plains. The victory halted Arab invasions for 600 years. The king led from the front, not from the back.

     Family was the foundation for unity in early Africa. The education of children was not only a parental role, but it was a built-in social responsibility. At the ages of six and seven, children were educated through stories, songs and dances. Physically, they were required to gather wood, bring water and look after the cattle, chickens and other livestock, which often required good running and climbing skills. Academically, they were required to know arithmetic. They had to be able to identify birds, animals, plants and trees. Socially, they were required to associate with their own age group, and acknowledge themselves as brothers and sisters. The girls were mainly required to learn how to cook, sew, and care for the younger children. During the teenage years, training and responsibilities increased. At age 13, the child’s success or failure was determined by their training and performance. The boys were required to learn family and social history, geography, hunting, planting, military tactics, good manners and leadership. All of the subjects mentioned were the stepping stones to manhood. The girls were introduced to womanhood through the process of childcare, housekeeping, gardening, cooking, good manners, learning different aspects of social relations, and how to be a good wife. From ages 19 through 28, the young men led the community in hunting, protecting the livestock, and preparing the fields for planting. The young women in this age group were generally wives and planters, but they also, cared for the sick and elderly, and were members of the female fighting forces. Each family held its honor and image in the community in high regard. Any family member whose behavior was an embarrassment to the family would first, be dealt with by their own family. Each family policed itself. Each age group policed itself. Each group elected its own leaders to meet with the leaders of the other groups on community matters. Conflicts between families would be brought before the Council of Elders for settlement. The efficiency and success of self-government was a major factor in the tranquility of African society. History does not lie. In early Africa, there was pride, family, honor and prosperity. It is a history that African Americans should be proud to acknowledge. The past also, holds the truth about the belief, concept and practice of white supremacy. This is a history that should also, be acknowledged.

In Georgia, 1899, thousands watched and cheered while someone plunged a knife into the body of Sam Holt, carving off his ears, fingers and genitals as souvenirs.

In Mississippi, Luther Holbert and his wife were forced to hold out their hands while someone chopped off one finger at a time.

In Texas, 1916, thousands watched as Jesse Washington was burned, stabbed and mutilated. His wife, Mary Turner, still in grief for her husband, was hung by her feet, doused with gasoline, and set on fire. Her stomach was cut open and the unborn child she was carrying fell to the ground and was crushed by the heel of someone’s shoe. Mary’s body was then riddled with bullets.

The horror stories go on-and-on, and there are too many to recount each one in this particular text. In fact, during a period of thirty years (1889 - 1918), over three thousand similar tragedies occurred. All of the victims shared one special trait-- they were born black.

 

     Heritage refers to that which is inherited. It is the condition or status into which one is born. Centuries ago, African children were heirs and heiresses to the throne of kings and queens. They were conceived and born into a tradition of pride, wealth, dignity, honor and courage. Today, many African and African American children are born into poverty, disease and shame. Furthermore, African American children are born into a perpetual cycle of disgrace. They are the beneficiaries of cultural exploitation and social degradation. George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  African Americans cannot expect to find prosperity in the future until we first, acknowledge the past. We must acknowledge that there is a greater purpose for our existence. Until we embrace the responsibility for the restoration of pride and unity to our race, each new generation will inherit a legacy of oppression. They will be branded with labels that read:

“INFERIOR”, “MINORITY”, “LOWER-CLASS”, “NIGGER”, and “MADE IN U.S.A.”.

 

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