Trials and Triumphs

Things to remember — and celebrate — during Black History Month

Trials and Triumphs
Caleb Walsh illustration

When Marcus Garvey said "A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots," he underscored how history feeds and inspires our future and gives us the medicine of memory to prevent us from repeating the past. With that in mind, here are times of struggle and moments of liberation that are essential to remember during Black History Month and beyond.

The trials

1. Colonization: The widespread theft of land in Africa included black heritage, resources and history.

2. Chattel slavery: African people were seen as a commodity to be bought and sold, stripped of all rights and subjugated in America through matriarchal heritage.

3. The African Holocaust: An estimated 200 million lives have been lost in total over the course of 500-plus years of oppression.

4. Fugitive Slave Act: All people of African ancestry in non-slave states in America were at risk for being kidnapped and enslaved.

5. Punishments for resistance: Boiling in oil, lynching, being eaten alive by birds, quartered alive, used for heinous medical experiments, rape and sexual trauma, and other methods of enforcing cooperation with and subjugation to slavery.

6. Plantation police: African Americans' first interaction with police in America was defined by brutalities perpetrated by enforcers of slavery laws. Police brutality continues to be a haunting issue for black America.

7. Reparations rescinded: Promissory titles to land given by the federal government granting 40 acres on which black families could build after the Civil War were retracted, leaving them landless, homeless and jobless.

8. Jim Crow: Named after a fictitious character from a 19th century song, the laws of segregation institutionalized racism by banning equal access to resources.

9. Bombing of Black Wall Street: One of the nation's most affluent black communities, in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was comprehensively destroyed in 1921 by white supremacists.

10. The Tuskegee Experiment: More than 600 black men in rural Alabama were promised free health care but were instead left untreated for syphilis for 40 years, even after the development of penicillin as a cure for syphilis. Many of the men died, infected others or passed on the curable disease to their children as a result.

The triumphs

1. Mansa Musa: Prior to European invasion of the African continent, King Mansa Musa of the Mali Empire amassed $400 billion, according to a new adjustment for inflation, making him the richest person of all time.

2. Timbuktu: The world's largest ancient university was housed in West Africa prior to the European invasion, with a population of 25,000 students and huge libraries with thousands of handwritten books.

3. Ethiopia and Liberia maintained independence and resisted colonization by Europe during the scramble for and division of Africa.

4. Nat Turner led the most significant uprising against slavery in American history in 1831.

5. Juneteenth: June 19, 1865 is known as African American Independence Day, when enslaved people in Texas were finally freed.

6. Black Wall Street: African American pioneers discovered oil near Tulsa, Oklahoma and African Americans built a thriving economy in the city's Greenwood neighborhood, with more than 600 businesses, including an airport, restaurants, schools, libraries and a hospital.

7. Black inventors: From Benjamin Banneker to George Washington Carver and the traffic light to the cell phone, African Americans have played a significant role in inventing many vital tools of technology.

8. Desegregation: Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 made possible the desegregation of public schools and was the tipping point for other civil rights legislation.

9. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965: If you haven't seen Selma, go watch it.

10. Electoral politics: From Hiram Revels, the first African American U.S. senator, in 1870, to Barack Obama's election in 2008, America has gone from equal voting rights to integrated political representation.

Our past informs our present, and what we do presently, including the history we choose to remember or forget, will forever shape the conditions and experiences of our future human family.♦

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