The time is overdue to turn the page on backward-looking narratives that have not caused a single Black person in America to better themselves, and to set a standard to which the wise and honest may repair. The path forward — and especially as we mark the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday — is to exalt, celebrate and salute Black achievement and success stories, to inspire the living and those yet to be born to strive for excellence and courage.
It should be underscored that the achievers and successes represent a rich diversity of thought and convictions. They marched to their own drummers, even if it meant encountering stiff headwinds. Nothing is more insulting or demoralizing than to be told that your ambitions, viewpoints and philosophy are predetermined by your race.
Let us begin with miseducation about a fictional character: Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” published in 1852. Uncle Tom is extraordinarily Christian. The climax of the story comes when he is asked to reveal where two slave women are hiding, who had been sexually abused by their cruel master, Simon Legree. Even knowing he will be beaten to death, Uncle Tom refuses to disclose their whereabouts. He signed away his life to save two Black women — the very definition of heroic.
But later movies and critics have airbrushed out the true Uncle Tom from the novel. They substituted a craven, docile, submissive Black man. No one protested or corrected the falsehood. Uncle Tom today is misunderstood — considered a slur to disparage a Black person who is thought to be humiliatingly subservient or deferential to white people.
But, read the novel: The real Uncle Tom was a hero. The book has been in the public domain for more than 170 years and it is not ambiguous about Uncle Tom’s gallant bravery. The true Uncle Tom infuriated slaveholders, which is why President Lincoln reportedly quipped upon meeting Stowe in 1862: “[S]o, you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”
We have lost Uncle Tom as a wonderful, positive role model through sheer ignorance and intellectual cowardice.
Crispus Attucks anticipated the genuine Uncle Tom. He escaped slavery to become a mariner and, killed during the 1770 Boston Massacre, is considered to be the first casualty of the American Revolution. In death, Attucks was afforded honors that no person of color — particularly one who had escaped slavery — had ever received before in America. Samuel Adams, spearhead of the Revolution, organized a procession to transport Attucks’ casket to Boston’s Faneuil Hall, where Attucks lay in repose for three days before a public funeral for victims of the massacre. An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 people — more than half of Boston’s population — joined in the procession that carried the caskets of Attucks and the other victims to the graveyard.
Attucks became a symbol in the 1840s for African American activists in the abolitionist movement, who promoted him as an example of a Black citizen and a patriot. He gave the lie to Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s counterfactual, racist assertion in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) that “[African Americans] had no rights, which the white man was bound to respect.” Martin Luther King wrote in 1964 that Black schoolchildren “know that the first American to shed blood in the revolution that freed his country from British oppression was a Black seaman named Crispus Attucks.” Could he write that same sentence today?
The Black pantheon includes the likes of King, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, W.E.B. DuBois, William Monroe Trotter, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Jesse Owens, the Tuskegee Airmen, Paul Robeson, Ralph Bunche, William Hastie, William Coleman, Jackie Robinson, Edward Brooke, Mohammed Ali, Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, and Ben Carson — and many more. A complete list is impossible to compile, and not just as a concession to the shortness of life and article space. I regret the omission of many other deserving Black Americans. All have proven the electrifying truth of the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley: “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”
Let us dwell on the positive, not the negative, in Black history. Exult over the glorious possibilities for the future, rather than cry forever over spilt milk. Every parent knows a child is doomed if given excuses for failure. Scapegoating accomplishes only stagnation. Everyone is capable of genius: “One percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration,” according to inventor-genius Thomas Edison.
Armstrong Williams (@ARightSide) is the owner and manager of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the Year. He is the author of “Reawakening Virtues.”
This content was originally published here.