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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Coloring History

By Rita Kramer

This is Black History Month, perhaps an appropriate time to call attention to an aspect of black history that has been papered over and all but forgotten in the official accounts and in what is taught in schools.

How many people today, black or white, know that the National Association for Colored People was founded by three white folks, two WASPS and a Jew, and that it was led and funded until well into the last century by whites, many of them Jews?  It is understandable that after a hundred years some degree of historical Alzheimers may appear in the memory of the organization-as it does on its web-site-but perhaps it is time to remember the truth about how it all happened.

Exactly one hundred years ago, on the centenary of Abraham Lincoln's birth and just one hundred years before a man of color would be elected to the Presidency of the United States, the situation in the Southern states was dreadful for dark-skinned Americans.  Most eked out a living as tenant farmers, exploited by the owners of the land they worked.  They were prevented from voting and their children, if they attended school at all, went barefoot to ramshackle buildings with few books or other supplies.  Negroes (the polite term then, which we will adopt for this article) were subject to arson, rape, and mob murder by lynching, with little or no interference by the elected authorities.  In many places it was a crime for black and white to frequent the same place at the same time.  The South was a society of complete and brutally enforced segregation.

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