Black History Month – Wrap-Up

To feature black history only during the shortest month of the year seems a bit absurd, and counterproductive. The more we are exposed to diverse people and cultures, the more we understand about each other, and the greater our empathy will be.

In 1954, a white professor of constitutional law, Charles L. Black, Jr. helped Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. to write the legal brief for Linda Brown, a 10-year-old student in Topeka, Kansas, whose historic case, Brown v. Board of Education, decided May 17, 1954, became the Supreme Court’s definitive judgment on segregation in American education.

Professor Charles Black

It is instructive to learn how Professor Black came to feel the way he did about African Americans. In 1931, as a 16-year-old freshman at the University of Texas at Austin, he happened to hear Louis Armstrong play. He later wrote in the Yale Law Journal,

“He was the first genius I had ever seen. … It is impossible to overstate the significance of a sixteen-year-old Southern boy’s seeing genius, for the first time, in a black. We literally never saw a black then in any but a servant’s capacity. … It had simply never entered my mind…that I would see [genius] for the first time in a black man. You don’t get over that. You stay young awhile longer, with the hesitations, the incertitudes, the half-obedience to crowd-pressure, of the young. But you don’t forget. The lies reel, and contradict one another, and simper in silliness, and fade into shadow. But the seen truth remains. … Through many years now, I have felt that it was just then that I started toward the Brown case, where I belonged. … Louis opened my eyes wide, and put to me a choice. Blacks, the saying went, were ‘all right in their place.’ What was the ‘place’ of such a man, and of the people from which he sprung?”

Louis Armstrong in 1934

In 1957, as Black was working on the Brown case, and the South was still resisting, he wrote out and published his heartfelt thoughts on the failure of whites and blacks “to recognize kinship.” Black was determined that the law should be formulated as if that kinship were recognized.

The late historian Howard Zinn wrote in 1966 that the source of the greatest leaps forward in history were made by those who acted “as if.” He wrote:

“The four Negro youngsters in Greensboro who in 1960 walked into Woolworth’s acted as if they would be served; Garrison and Phillips, against all apparent common sense, acted as if they would arouse a cold nation against slavery; England in 1940 acted as if it could repel a German invasion; Castro and his tiny group in the hills behaved as if they could take over Cuba.”

If we, too, act as if we can alter the world for the better, maybe we can.


About rhapsodyinbooks

We're into reading, politics, and intellectual exchanges.
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11 Responses to Black History Month – Wrap-Up

  1. Julie P. says:

    I hope you’ve enjoyed preparing these posts as much as I’ve enjoyed reading them!

  2. Jenny says:

    I’ve really enjoyed reading these posts! Thanks so much for doing them, it’s been brilliant.

  3. Sandy says:

    I have loved your posts celebrating Black History month. Fascinating information, and all very well-written. Thank you!!!

  4. susan says:


    Well done. I’m glad you did the series. I enjoyed it very much.

  5. ds says:

    “The more we are exposed to diverse people and cultures, the more we understand about each other, and the greater our empathy will be. ”

    Amen, sister! Thank you for these wonderful, illuminating posts.

  6. Alyce says:

    I really enjoyed your black history month posts!

  7. Nymeth says:

    The more we are exposed to diverse people and cultures, the more we understand about each other, and the greater our empathy will be. I couldn’t agree more. Thank you SO much for all these posts. I learned a lot about US history that I simply had no idea about.

  8. Thank you so much for taking all the time you invested into these posts so that we could become better educated!!!

  9. rebeccareid says:

    This is so great. Thanks for all your posts. They have inspired me to, as you suggest, read and learn about African-American history all year long.

  10. Margot says:

    The message of “as if” in this post is so powerful. I’ve printed it in big letters across the top of the planner I use every day. I’m going to test out it’s power in my life.

    I too have enjoyed these posts. Thanks for all your hard work. You’ve made me think, remember and learn.

  11. C. Moore says:

    It’s never to late to do the “RIGHT” thing!

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