LC’s Commentary

Listen To The Voice of Reason

The Black Man Must Read

The Black Man Must Read!

I recently became the proud owner of a book titled “The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass”, Supplementary Volume 5 1844-1860. Although somewhat familiar with Frederick Douglass’s writings, perusing this book has given me a totally new awareness of the life of this man, his writings, as well as his speeches.  His presentations regarding a whole host of subjects pertaining to this nation and its relationship with a segment of its people are spellbinding and quite enlightening.  I keep going over the same passages, time after time — just in case I missed something. This book is a must-read for anyone remotely interested in how Frederick Douglass viewed the lives and condition of black folks, slaves and free men from 1844 to 1860.

Douglass, not to let the ruling class escape criticism, openly scolded and appealed to them to unchain black brethren — remove the shackles of slavery and let all men, no matter their color or stead in life, enjoy all the promises made in the Constitution.

I could write a book about what I learned from reading this book. However, I see no need to try and put my awakening and enlightening to pen and paper. Although I have read many books regarding the life and times of black folks during the period mentioned in Frederick Douglass’s book, not one of them captured my attention the way this book did.

If I listen carefully, I can almost hear Douglass saying the following to a group of people gathered at the Odd Fellows Festival in Rochester, New York in January 1854:

”As a people we are poor, and are limited in point of mental attainments.  We must improve our condition, and here the work is ours. It cannot be done by our friends.  They can pity as they can sympathize with us. But we need more than sympathy-something more than pity. We must be respected. And we cannot be respected unless we are independent or aiming to be. We must be as independent of society as society is of us-and lay society under as many obligations to us as we are under to society. We cannot be paupers and be respected, though we may be paupers and be pitied.  The fact is, my friends we must not only work, but we must make money-not only make money, but we must save it, and when we use it, use it wisely. Knowledge too, we must get it. We must get it by exertion, by patient study and perseverance. It is fortunate for our down-trodden race, that knowledge is power, and that this power is accessible to us, as well as the rest of mankind.”

People, what Douglass said in 1854, rings true today.  In his speech in the court house at Chatman Canada on August 3, 1864, he discussed a whole host of problems facing the black man. Of special significance were his comments on reading. Douglass said:

“[t]he colored man must also read.”

It was true when he made this speech. It is true today. The colored man must read!  Douglass knew that knowledge was a key of a sort. Knowledge — and proper use of — unlocks the doors to progress. Reading is one of the main ways to attain knowledge. Ignorance is a hindrance to progress, no matter the color of a man’s skin. It is unrealistic to have high expectations in life if one has not put forth the effort necessary to attain knowledge and skills demanded by society.

It is difficult to understand how a black man living in the time of Frederick Douglass could recognize the need for this thing called reading.  Why do I say this? Since reading and writing instructions were severely limited during his lifetime, his interaction with other blacks who could read and write was probably limited. Nevertheless, his interaction with many whites who had mastered this thing called reading and writing, and how they used those skills, persuaded him to unceasingly seek ways to give blacks the opportunity to learn to read and write. Keep in mind, teaching blacks to read and write during the Douglass period, was frowned upon in many quarters, especially in Southern states. Inadequate, poorly funded, understaffed, and segregated schools in the north left many ill-prepared for intellectually-equipped society. Despite having to overcome obstacles of every imaginable nature, many blacks strived to learn to read and write.

Fast forward to 2012. What has convinced so many black children and their parents that learning to read and write well and pursuing a decent education is unnecessary? It is difficult to imagine what they see and hear that promotes this mindset. On what is this mindset predicated? It just does not make sense.  There was a time when black schools were burned, teachers intimidated and chased out town to prevent blacks from learning to read and write. These actions are no longer problematic. Black children, their parents and the black community are busy putting obstacles in the way. Sure, the buildings, books, teachers and students are present. However, the very foundation necessary for getting a good education, somehow, some way, became irrelevant. Somewhere along the way, these things called reading and writing became secondary to everything else offered in schools. Many students, for whatever reason, do not read or write very well. One can tell by their speech that they do not read well. In many instances, it is difficult, indeed impossible, to converse with them because it is virtually impossible to understand what they are saying. Broken English is the norm rather than the exception.

What will it take to get our children interested in education? Is there a counter to television, internet, iPods, video games, cable television, and cell phones? Is society willing to take the necessary actions to eradicate some of the things that school children have to wade through and process daily? It is more than their immature minds can handle. Therefore, they spend most of their time watching and listening to what they want, rather than watching and listening to what they should.

There is no easy fix, nor should there be. The current situation black families face, especially their school children, is monumental. It has taken many years to reach the current level of decay.  Do not expect the problem to disappear overnight. Additional dollars dedicated to under performing schools will help. However, money alone will not eradicate the problem.

Everyone has a stake in this problem. All who are remotely involved in this thing called education must pull their fair share of the load.

September 9, 2012


September 10, 2012 - Posted by | Black Youth, Decline Of The Family, Educating black children, The Black Family, The Black Man

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